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Why the Pope is Not Sorry: It's Time to End the Lie

by Rev. Kevin D. Annett

April 2009

"You are from your father, the Devil. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he acts according to his nature, for he is a liar and the Father of lies."
Jesus, quoted in John 8:44

"Look boys, if we're going to worship a poor, humble man, we're going to need a rich, hierarchical institution to do it with!"
Monty Python's "Vice Pope Eric"

The lie playing itself out this week in Rome is hardly new, or surprising. By the standards of the Vatican, it is actually a relatively obvious untruth. But for Pope Joseph Ratzinger to pose as someone who is sorry for what his church did to aboriginal people in Canada is about as sincere as the proclamations of his cash-strapped papal predecessors who ruled that it was a sin to believe that Jesus was a poor man - or, that one could buy one's way into salvation with enough payouts to the church.

Expediency should never be confused with the truth.

Like a little boy caught with a rock in his hand, Pope Joseph is in serious trouble, now that Canada has had to admit that thousands of native kids died at the hands of the Catholic church, which established and ran most of the Indian residential schools. But to make things worse, Joe himself is personally implicated in the whole mess, since in writing he ordered Bishops and priests to suppress evidence of the violence done against not only native children, but any victim of priestly sexual assault, on pain of excommunication.

Covering up a crime is itself a crime, under any law, and Joe knows it. And so does the Oregon circuit court judge who ruled recently that survivors of any assault by a Catholic priest could sue the Vatican itself for damages.

International human rights lawyers have tried serving papers on Pope Joe a few times, and extraditing him into American courts because of his complicity in the silencing of church victims while he was a cardinal. But the Canadian residential school crimes are a lot more serious, now that mass graves have been identified. The Vatican has to quickly quell the threat of a War Crimes Tribunal summoning Pope Joe to answer questions, relying on the standard legal panacea known as "the apology".

Let's get clear about this word, and its corollary term so bandied about by guilty parties, "reconciliation" . Neither an apology nor a "reconciliation" has anything to do with being regretful or truly sorry, or with actually admitting that one has done something wrong. An "apologetic" means to defend and justify some act. Both words are about avoiding responsibility for a violent crime through a process of public and legal indemnification, whereby victims absolve the perpetrator and shield them from any consequences.

Put simply, if you're wealthy enough, you can get away with any crime, with the right words. And the Catholic church, as the oldest, wealthiest, and most systematic murderer on the planet, is a master of constructing words, which is the one and only skill required by the Lie.

Backtrack in time to the high middle ages, when the Vatican launched its crusades against "Saracens and pagans" abroad, and dissident Christians at home. A legal system was needed to justify the church's slaughter and conquest of all those Others, whether in the middle east or on distant continents. Papal lawyers came up with something called an Indulgence, a brilliant device which made it a virtue to loot, rape and murder, if these acts were done in the name of the church.

In 1095, Pope Urban II declared that Christian crusaders were absolved from any consequences for crimes they may commit in the upcoming war against Muslims, and indeed were spiritually elevated by waging such a war. The violence of the church became a virtue, under canon law.

By implication, those "unbelievers" damaged by the Crusaders had no basis to claim that wrong was done to them, since they were the cause of the war, and in fact the "unbelievers" had to make restitution to the church for having caused the violence done against them!

That act of restitution was termed a Reconciliation.

During the Spanish Inquisition, for example, Catholics who had "lapsed" and become Lutherans were "reconciled through loss of property and compelled to endure prison terms". In 1612, five citizens of Madrid were "subjected to reconciliation for Judaism and committed to the galleys as slaves". And the same fate awaited American Indians. In 1690, the Bishop of Oaxaca in Mexico "discovered organized idolatry in eleven pueblos of Indians, and held an auto (inquisition) in which the culprits were reconciled and penanced, twenty of them being condemned to perpetual prison ...". (1)

To quote the medieval historian Henry Charles Lea,

"Reconciliation to the Church entailed confiscation and was usually accompanied with other penalties according to the record of the culprit and the readiness with which he confessed and recanted. There might be prison, public humiliation, scourging or the galleys." (2)

This concept of blaming a victim for their suffering at the hands of the church, and of expecting any critic or opponent of the church to do penance on the latter's terms, is based on a basic Biblical and Roman notion that the mighty are always right, and the conquered must make amends to the conqueror.

The core paradigm of European Christendom, and culture, is in fact the belief that mankind fell away from God in rebellion, and to win salvation must be reconquered by and "reconciled" to God (and, by implication, to the church) through penance and submission. The rebel thereby indemnifies the conqueror by acknowledging that the violence done by him was right and justified, freeing him from responsibility, and in effect stating to the world that there was no crime committed, except by the conquered rebel.

The Romans used this ritual re-submission of a conquered chieftain in their public religious ceremonies, prior to executing the chieftain by strangulation. And as the heir to the Roman Empire, the Catholic church incorporated this practice into its treatment of any enemy it conquered, including dissident Christians, aboriginal people or Muslims.

That practice, quite naturally, continues to the present day, albeit in a more secularized version. We have witnessed it played out in the residential schools drama in Canada, in which the church, Catholic and Protestant, has been publicly vindicated for any wrongdoing by the re-submission of its victims, in this case the aboriginal survivors of the schools.

After undergoing public humiliation, through recounting their tortures and receiving an insultingly minimal "compensation" in return for their promised silence, native survivors have freed the perpetrators of any liability by declaring that the churches are in fact not guilty of any crime, through their waiving of any legal action against the churches.

The fact that every Canadian Prime Minister since 1968, save one, has been a Catholic, has certainly helped the Vatican force the re-submission and "reconciliation" of its aboriginal victims, and avoid responsibility for mass murder. As a fundamentalist Protestant, Prime Minister Steven Harper perhaps felt freer to name the crime of the Vatican by finally responding to the evidence of genocide and the cries of the survivors, and opening the whole residential school can of worms in April of 2007.

But the essential point is that Pope Joseph's upcoming "apology" to residential school survivors is not an admission of wrongdoing on the part of the church, or even an expression of regret: a fact indicated by the manner in which  native chiefs from Canada will be "received in audience" with the Pope, in exactly the same way that the Roman Emperor accepted the supplication of conquered chieftains at his palace - on his terms, and his alone. The chiefs will stand before the Emperor, again, to state that the latter is not guilty, and to seek readmission to the fold.

There is no other explanation to the fact that, as part of his "apology", the Pope will not be forced to revoke Papal laws authorizing the genocidal conquest of native people, nor disclose the buried location of residential school children, nor surrender those responsible for their deaths.

If Joseph Ratzinger was actually "apologizing" in the sense that most of us understand the word, he would travel to the victims, not they to him, and beg their forgiveness. He would disclose the truth, open the secret archives, and give his victims a proper burial. And he would stop instructing his priests and Bishops to hide the evidence of violence still being done against children in the Catholic church.

The fact that Joseph Ratzinger will be doing none of these things this week, but rather issuing words that will protect his church and himself from any hint of wrongdoing and from any legal liability for the death of tens of thousands of little children, indicates exactly who is in charge of this latest spectacle.

The Father of Lies, indeed.

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Kevin Annett is a community minister and educator in Vancouver, Canada who works with aboriginal survivors of Christian residential schools. He is the author of two books on genocide in Canada, and is the co-producer of the award-winning documentary film on Canadian Indian residential schools, UNREPENTANT.

Kevin D. Annett

260 Kennedy St.
Nanaimo, B.C. Canada V9R 2H8
ph: 250-753-3345 or 1-888-265-1007
email: hiddenfromhistory@ yahoo.ca

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Some Modest Proposals
to Undo a Legacy of Religious Genocide in Canada

1. Annul the charitable tax-exempt status of the Roman Catholic church in Canada, and tax this church for all back payments owed to the people and indigenous nations of Canada for stolen lands, resources and lives.

2. End diplomatic recognition of the Vatican and expel the Papl Nuncio from Canada.

3. Issue a summons to Pope Joseph Ratzinger to appear before a War Crimes Tribunal convened on sovereign indigenous land, and answer charges of his complicity in crimes against humanity, specifically the deaths of more than 50,000 children in Indian Residential Schools across Canada.

For more information see: www.hiddenfromhistory.org


1. The Inquisition of the Spanish Dependencies by Henry Charles Lea (New York, 1908), pp. 97, 211 (FN 3), 421. My emphasis.

2. Ibid., p. 421.