A Baltimore Catechism Lesson, in Light of Recent News

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I would like to draw your attention to a lesson and illustration from this venerable series, the Catechism of Saint Joseph Baltimore. I don’t think I have the right to post the image on a Patheos blog, but you can check out where it was posted publicly here.

For those who cannot see, the illustration is of a cute little girl with gray hair and oddly salmon skin in a red dress, who looks a bit like Mary from It’s A wonderful life. Mary makes a sad face and says, “It was my fault. I tell the truth. I don’t leave anything out. It is to show how to confess your sins correctly: “There are three main qualities of a good confession: they must be humble, sincere and whole. NO EXCUSES, NO FALSE, NO OMISSIONS. Humble, sincere, whole.

This is how Catholics are supposed to confess our sins: we are supposed to be humble, admit fault instead of looking for others to blame. We are supposed to be sincere, to tell the truth about what we have done. We are meant to be whole, leaving out nothing relevant. Understood?

Good.

Because that’s the only way I want to hear my fellow Catholics who are not native people talk about the horrific discoveries of the mass graves on residential school grounds. I don’t have the right to order around native Catholics; all I can tell you is that I am humbled by your power to see Christ despite all the sins committed against your culture by the colonizers, and I am so sorry. But for the rest of you: this is how you are supposed to talk about crimes like the ones we see uncovered. You are supposed to confess them humbly, sincerely and completely.

Discoveries keep coming in: the remains of hundreds of small children we already knew were torn from their parents’ arms and deliberately abused in order to destroy all vestiges of their culture. Now we know that they were also directly killed or neglected to death in large numbers. These graves are in Residential Schools, but you can be sure that if we ever bother to look, we will see the same happen in Residential Schools in the United States.

The Catholic Church has committed these sins. They willingly sent “missionaries” whose job it was to receive the kidnapped children, torture them until they submitted, and apparently kill them.

Gaudium Et Spes clearly says: any form of social or cultural discrimination in basic human rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language or religion must be suppressed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s purpose . And residential schools were designed to discriminate against basic personal rights on these same grounds. It was sin. All the child abuse, the beatings, sexual abuse, and other punishments, which the priests and religious of these schools committed in an attempt to eradicate the indigenous cultures of the United States and Canada, were sin after sin against the Fifth Commandment. And, of course, killing children is also the most serious of sins. I would like to see someone pretend not.

And as if all that wasn’t enough, it was also a terrible way to preach the gospel. If what we really wanted were converts to Christianity, we never would have portrayed Christ in such a traumatic and abusive way. Many native people do not want to hear about Jesus Christ because of our sins. This is how we have terribly failed Christ on all levels. We blasphemed him by pretending to represent him while torturing and killing small children. Christ Himself said that the punishment for this sin would be something worse than a grindstone and the sea. We brought it upon ourselves.

We must confess these sins, humbly, sincerely and completely.

Do not try to put the blame on the Canadian and American governments. Of course, the government and the Church worked together, but that is not the point. Now is the time to confess what we have done. Humbly confess his fault. Listen humbly to the survivors.

Don’t try to struggle over what happened or pretend there were some good sides too. It is not sincere. Be sincere, admit how terrible and inexcusable it was.

Do not act as if every effort should not be made to discover the full extent of the atrocity. Hurry for the fullness of sin to be known.

Of course, this is just the start. We just cannot confess. Remember, as we have all learned in Sunday school lessons, we are supposed to confess our sins, do penance, and amend our lives. There is probably a salmon and sockeye cartoon from the Baltimore Catechism on this subject as well. And the penance for such serious sins is going to be quite a business. I could humbly suggest that since these priests and religious responded to dioceses and took vows of obedience to religious orders, the orders and dioceses should foot the bill. Dioceses and religious orders seem to have unlimited funding when it comes to hiring lawyers to protect their members from the consequences when they are accused of crimes – just see how “Monsieur Morrier” has been treated in April. I think a good start to repair could be done quite easily from this source. I don’t know how we’re gonna make them spit, of course.

And to my native siblings reading this: I’m so, so sorry. I don’t expect you to be satisfied with a “sorry”. I know that saying “sorry” is not enough, but I want to say it anyway. I want this to be the start of living differently. With the help of the grace of Him whom the Venerable Black Elk called Wanikiya, I am firmly resolved to confess my sins, do penance, and amend my life.

And of my Church, I demand the same.

Image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Stations of the Cross and Stumbling in Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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