When Canada’s Catholic bishops announced a $30-million fundraising campaign to support reconciliation projects for residential school survivors earlier this year, they promised to release additional details in November.
But now, just as millions of Catholics prepare for Christmas mass this weekend, CBC News has learned the national campaign hasn’t yet started.
An official with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) says they’re still working on a detailed plan.
First Nations leaders, survivors and advocates interviewed say they’re disgusted, but not surprised.
“For God’s sake, look at their history. Why do people expect anything different from them?” said Chief Byron Louis, of the Okanagan Indian Band in B.C.
The CCCB first pledged to raise $30 million in September, following the discovery of more than 1,000 unmarked graves at former residential school sites across Canada.
It also came in the wake of a CBC News investigation that raised questions about the Catholic compensation deal reached in 2005 under the landmark Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Survivors say the Church reneged on all three major promises in that agreement.
In a statement announcing the fundraising pledge in September, CCCB president Bishop Raymond Poisson said there was “universal consensus that Catholic entities needed to do more in a tangible way to address the suffering experienced in Canada’s residential schools.”
It made the following promise: “The Bishops of Canada have committed and tasked themselves to develop national principles and strategy, timelines, and the public communication of these collective initiatives this November.”
This week, CBC News asked CCCB officials for any information on the campaign, including how much money has been raised so far. Government and public relations advisor Jonathan Lesarge responded in an email that it hasn’t started yet.
“The $30-million national financial pledge is an ambitious undertaking, requiring substantial efforts from dioceses across the country. A group of bishops have been working diligently to develop a strategy that ensures this pledge is transparently achieved and that all funds are allocated to deserving projects with appropriate oversight,” Lesarge wrote.
When asked when the fundraising will start, Lesarge said more information will be made public “in the near future.”
Chief Byron Louis said Canadian and Vatican Catholic officials could write a cheque for $30 million immediately, if it was a priority. He noted more than $300 million was devoted to Canadian cathedral and church buildings at the same time the Church had agreed to compensate survivors.
“They are protecting their assets. These are not the actions of a church. This is a corporation,” Louis said.
Former Truth and Reconciliation counsel Tom McMahon agreed.
“They have vast real estate holdings across the country,” he said. “They didn’t need a fundraising campaign to hire all these lawyers to fight survivors. Cut a cheque.”
Former Chief Wayne Semaganis, of Little Pine First Nation in Saskatchewan, said it’s particularly cruel for Catholic bishops to leave elderly survivors waiting over the Christmas holidays.
“It’s a difficult time for survivors across this land. They have so much less. They’ve been through so much. It’s really disappointing,” Semaganis said.
“I pray — I’m a spiritual person,” he said. “But this destroys your faith that this relationship will ever heal.”