Did the Pope Really Refuse to Apologize?

A commentary on whether the Pope should apologize to Canada’s Indigenous people.

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Back in May of 2017, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Pope Francis and asked him to apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system where abuse of indigenous children occurred (see Newsweek).  When I first heard about this, I was confused as I thought the Pope had already apologized. I  wondered why the Catholic leader was being asked to apologize again.  Newsweek’s article explains that in 2009 the previous pontiff, Pope Benedict, met with survivor of the system Phil Fontaine, then national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. The article asserts that the pope did not formally apologize. Instead, he simply shared his ‘sorrow’ and ‘sympathy.’

Pope Francis

In March, the headline, Pope’s decision to not issue apology , appeared on the CBC News website. The article says Pope Francis claimed he could not personally apologize for residential school abuses. This month, Global News reported that the Canadian Parliament held a “historic” debate on whether to ask Pope Francis to formally apologize for the substantial role the Catholic church played in the residential school system. This week The National Post reports that Canadian Members of Parliament (MPs) passed a motion to invite the Pope to Canada to apologize for residential schools. The vote was passed by a margin of 269-10 .  One of the advocates of the motion was residential school survivor and MP, Romeo Saganash. The article says that an apology is one of the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; a Commission that recommended an apology be delivered in Canada by the pontiff, for the church’s role in the residential school abuse of First Nations, Inuit and Metis children.

All this talk about another apology from a pope piqued my curiosity. If the previous pope, Pope Benedict, already issued an apology, what is this all about? I set out to find out.

The National Observer’s article, Bishops try to clarify Pope’s refusal to apologize for residential schools, says the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a background paper to MPs and senators. The paper says the church has “on a number of occasions expressed regret and remorse at the involvement by various Catholics” in the schools. It also reminds us that Pope Benedict met with a delegation of Indigenous leaders in 2009 “and expressed sorrow and regret for the abuses suffered” in the schools. The Bishop’s paper said Phil Fontaine declared that the meeting with Pope Benedict “closes the circle of reconciliation.” It also said

  “To suggest that the Catholic community has not accepted responsibility for its involvement in residential schools is simply inaccurate. The Catholic Church has apologized in the way it is structured.”

The New York Times article, A Pope Given to Apologies Has Nothing for Indigenous Canada, says that Phil Fontaine has since stated, “It was right for the moment,” about Pope Benedict’s expression of sorrow. “But there’s a lot we didn’t know about in 2009: We didn’t know the number of deaths, the numbers of those abused. So much has been exposed through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it’s really so different now.”

 I have to agree with Mr. Fontaine. Since 2009 we’ve learned a lot more about the horrors that occurred in those schools. In fact, I was shocked to learn doing this post that CBC News reported that Ontario Provincial Police files reveal that an Ontario residential school, St. Anne’s, had built its own electric chair. In my last post, Hockey is Part of Canada, I talked about how residential school students lived in substandard conditions, endured physical, emotional and sexual abuse by brothers, priests and nuns who claimed they represented God.

This begs the question: Was the 2009 apology a true, sincere apology, and what constitutes an accurate apology anyways?  Mindtools.com in its article, How to Apologize: Asking for Forgiveness Gracefully, says to apologize correctly, an apology must:

  1. start with two magic words: “I’m sorry,” or “I apologize.”
  2. admit responsibility for actions or behaviour and acknowledge what an offender did.
  3. take action to make the situation right.
  4. explain that the offender will never repeat the action or behaviour again.

Psychology Today’s article, The Five Ingredients of an Effective Apology, says in order for an apology to be effective, it must have the following ingredients:

  1. A clear ‘I’m sorry’ statement.
  2. An expression of regret for what happened.
  3. An acknowledgment that social norms or expectations were violated.
  4. An empathy statement acknowledging the full impact of the offender’s actions on the victim(s). In other words, to truly forgive, a victim needs to feel that the offender completely understands the full impact their actions had on them.
  5. A request for forgiveness.

So, do the Canadian Conference of Bishops have a valid argument? Has the Catholic Church given a proper apology? Using the above criteria, l shall analyze Pope Benedict’s 2009 apology.

CTV News in 2009 reported, that the pontiff expressed his sorrow and emphasized that “acts of abuse cannot be tolerated”.  Pope Benedict went on to say,

“Given the sufferings that some indigenous children experienced in the Canadian residential school system, the Holy Father expressed his sorrow at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the church and he offered his sympathy and prayerful solidarity.”

Both Mindtools.com and Psychology Today say the words “I’m sorry,” or “I apologize” need to be used. They were not used by the pontiff in 2009. This is the primary argument for why it was  not a real apology. Pope Benedict’s apology definitely fails on this point.

Psychology Today says there needs to be an expression of regret for what happened. The Pontiff expressed his sorrow at the anguish. I’d say that shows regret, so it’s a pass on this one.

Mindtools.com says an apology needs to take responsibility for actions or behaviour as well as acknowledge what occurred. The Holy Father did acknowledge what happened, i.e. “the deplorable conduct of some members of the church”.  It’s debatable whether he’s taken responsibility. Another word for responsibility is accountability, which means being answerable for one’s actions.  Expressing “sorrow” and “regret” is not being accountable . I’d give a fail for this one.

Psychology Todays says an empathy statement acknowledging the full impact of an offender’s actions on the other person, needs to be given.  Benedict talked about “the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the church” but that is hardly acknowledging the full impact of the actions. I would give a fail on this one.

Mindtools.com says the offender must take action to make the situation right and promise to never repeat the action or behavior. The pope’s apology fails on these points. Psychology Today says there needs to be a request for forgiveness. This did not happen, so a fail on this one as well.

Canada’s Parliament Buildings

Is our Prime Minister and Canada’s Members of Parliament justified in asking Pope Francis to apologize? After my analysis, I would say a resounding YES. Furthermore, aboard the Papal plane back in 2016, Pope Francis told reporters that gays — and all the other people the church has marginalized, such as the poor and the exploited — deserve an apology (see CBC).  It would seem to me that the indigenous people were marginalized, meaning they were seen as less important by members of the church, as late as 1996 when the last federally operated residential school closed. Actions speak louder than words. The pope needs to put his own words into action and deliver a sincere, acceptable apology to the indigenous people of Canada on behalf of the church he represents. It’s the Christian thing to do!

Hockey is Part of Canada

A commentary on two tragedies that affected all Canadians

Since my last post, two events have occurred that deeply impacted me on an emotional level.  I’ll start with the first; a horrific event. On April 6th,  the bus taking a hockey team, the Humboldt Broncos to a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff game, collided with a tractor-trailer in rural Saskatchewan.  Sixteen people were killed with the youngest victim being a 16-year-old Broncos player. Even though I am not part of the hockey world and never have been, I was still shaken and saddened. For me, it is more about family members of the victims. I thought about my own children and the many times they were on buses going to basketball or some other sport.

A memorial at the stairs that lead to Elgar Petersen Arena is shown in Humboldt, Sask.. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards ORG

What struck me most about this event, was the reaction of Canadians and even the world. According to CTV News Saskatchewan, Humboldt’s only florist received hundreds of orders from as far away as Australia to send flowers to anyone and everyone affected by the crash. The Canalta Hotel offered free rooms to family members travelling to the Humboldt after the crash, plus provided food and support. Restaurants handed out free food. In one instance, an individual driving through a Tim Hortons bought coffee for the next 50 people in line. The food manager for the City of Humboldt said he has watched semi-trailers full of water, soda and edibles come into the Humboldt Uniplex every day. Flags were flown at half-mast across the nation to show compassion for Humboldt.

What is even more astonishing is people across Canada and from around the world contributed to a GoFundMe campaign for the victims and their families, which has exceeded fourteen million dollars, one of the largest drives in Canada’s history. As Maclean’s magazine put it, Humboldt’s GoFundMe account expresses a nation’s grief in dollars and cents.

An initiative #JerseysforHumboldt was first proposed on Facebook by a group of hockey parents in British Columbia as a way to honour the Saskatchewan junior hockey team. The movement snowballed resulting in Canadians across the country putting on jerseys as a massive show of support for the Humboldt Broncos hockey team. (see Jersey Day)

One person started a phenomenon by tweeting a picture that showed a lonely hockey stick left out on the front step of a home with the message, “Leaving it out on the porch tonight. The boys might need it … wherever they are.”  Numerous people have tweeted their pictures under the hashtag #PutYourStickOut to show their support to the team and their friends and families. (see Hockey Sticks)

It was Al Gore who said (paraphrased) in his latest movie, ‘An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power’, “It’s our suffering that unites us”. That is what seems to be happening in my country because of this awful event. Perhaps the late Nelson Mandela said it better with his words, “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” Whatever is happening, I can honestly say that I felt proud to be a Canadian.

The second event was also a horrific event that also involves hockey, but in a different way. It was an experience that affected me just as deeply as the one I described above. On the weekend I went to the Canadian movie, Indian Horse, a movie released on April 13.  This is a movie I would encourage every Canadian, and even people of other nationalities to see if they can. It tells a story that needs to be told and Canadians need to hear, even though it is a story that will likely make you uncomfortable.

What is so special about this film is it connects hockey with Indigenous issues. The story is adapted from a novel by Richard Wagamese, and is executive produced by Clint Eastwood. It explores the career of an exceptionally talented young Indigenous hockey player and  a NHL hopeful who endures Indian Residential school and struggles against racism-even from his own team-when he is recruited to a farm team for the Maple Leafs in Toronto.

The Star says, “Indigenous elders were on hand, as they had been throughout production of the movie…guiding the cast and crew through some of the darker moments they experienced.” The movie disturbingly shows the horror that indigenous children endured in Canadian Residential Schools as well as the relentless racism directed towards them outside the schools.

Here is a video telling a bit about the movie.

The story centers around the main character, Saul, who is forcibly taken from his family and placed in a Catholic governed Residential School. Saul’s only way to cope with his school hell is to turn to hockey.

Here is a quick lesson on the schools. In the 19th century, the Canadian government developed a policy called “aggressive assimilation” to be carried out at church-run, government-funded industrial schools, later to be called residential schools. It thought indigenous people’s best chance for success was to learn English, adopt Christianity and the Euro-Canadian culture.

To truly understand the mindset of Canadian government at that time in history, we just need to comprehend the mindset of Duncan Campbell Scott, who was head of the Department of Indian Affairs from 1913 to 1932, a department he had served since joining the federal civil service in 1879. Mr. Scott said:

 “I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.”

It is clear that the Canadian government saw the indigenous people as a problem that needed to be dealt with. In fact, Duncan Campbell Scott once said, the “policy of this Department [Indian Affairs]…is geared towards the final solution of our Indian Problem.”

The movie boldly showed how students of the Residential schools lived in substandard conditions, endured physical and emotional abuse as well as sexual abuse by people who claimed to be God’s representatives.  Essentially, the Government of Canada initiated a cultural genocide, a genocide carried out by various denominations of church missionaries.

I left that movie feeling sickened that my country has this dark history. I felt compassion for indigenous Canadians. I felt annoyed that it is only in the 21st century that I am now learning about this dark history regarding Canada’s treatment of its indigenous people. And most of all, I left that movie feeling ashamed to be a Canadian and ashamed of my Catholic roots.

The Pope, a TED Talk Celebrity

A commentary on the importance of community.

A few days ago, I went to the CBC news website to see if anything significant was happening in the world. This is something I do frequently. I was surprised to see an article called, Pope urges powerful to put people ahead of products in surprise TED Talk. My first reaction was, “the Pope gave a TED talk? How cool is that. When I read the article, and watched the talk, I was taken with his message as it made me think. Now I don’t always agree with the pope, but in regards to this talk, I think his message is one that the world needs to hear. It was a message about how influential people are failing to help those in need, and what the pope refers to as a “culture of waste”, a culture that puts products ahead of people. If you haven’t seen the talk, here it is.

The first thing that struck me in the Pope’s TED talk were his words:

People’s paths are riddled with suffering, as everything is centred around money, and things, instead of people. And often there is this habit, by people who call themselves “respectable,” of not taking care of the others, thus leaving behind thousands of human beings, or entire populations, on the side of the road. Fortunately, there are also those who are creating a new world by taking care of the other, even out of their own pockets. Mother Teresa actually said: “One cannot love, unless it is at their own expense.”

The pope is absolutely right. Our society is centred around money. Our society tends to put money and possessions before people. According to Wikipedia, a 2012 study for the years 2002–2008 found that about 25% of all senior citizens living in the United States declared bankruptcy due to medical expenses, and 43% were forced to mortgage or sell their primary residence. A 2004 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)  report said: “With the exception of Mexico, Turkey, and the United States, all OECD countries had achieved universal or near-universal (at least 98.4% insured) coverage of their populations by 1990.” I will always be grateful that Canada has a universal health care system. Private, for profit health care is but one example where money and possessions are prioritized before people.

We are all familiar with those stories where people are treated as outcasts. The Syrian refugees would be one such group, but I would rather focus on the second part of the statement, that is, “creating a new world by taking care of the other.” One such example of this is Ontario’s basic income pilot project (see basic income). Basic income is when payments are provided to eligible families or individuals that ensures a minimum level of income. Ontario’s plan is to implement a pilot program. Supporters of the basic income say it could eliminate poverty and streamline government bureaucracies because a basic income would replace many other benefits, potentially including welfare, unemployment insurance, Old Age Security as well as others. Glasgow in the United Kingdom is considering such a project as well (see BBC). Sweden and Switzerland are also considering Basic Income programs (see Huffpost). The way I see it, basic income programs are merely a way of “taking care of the other”.

It’s interesting that research is indicating that “taking care of the other” is what happens in nature. Science Daily reports in their article, Species Take Care Of Each Other In Ecological Communities, that a University of Alberta study has determined that there are rules of existence in tropical rain forests. One species will not take up too much space so as to not squeeze out other species. Researchers say this is a way that ecological communities regulate themselves. Really, it is just “taking care of the other”.

Another message the pope had that caught my attention were his words,

Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other. There is a saying in Argentina: “Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach.” You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness. Through humility and concrete love, on the other hand, power – the highest, the strongest one – becomes a service, a force for good.

“With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” This is a quote by Benjamin Parker (Uncle Ben) in the Marvel comic series “Spider-Man”.  Those in positions of power have a responsibility to do what is best for all the people they have influence over. Political leaders must, as Pope Francis says, be willing serve others as a force of good. It was Mahatma Gandhi who said,

“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.” This is so true and this is really one of Pope Francis’ key messages in the TED talk. Or, to put it in the pope’s own words:

But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a “you” and themselves as part of an “us.” We all need each other.

The blog called Tiny Buddha, gives six reasons for why we need one another in a post called The Power of Community,. They are:

  1. Collective wisdom. No one person ever has all of the answers. This makes sense since the more ideas there are, the more likely a solution to a problem can be found.
  2. Pushing our limits. When a person is alone, it’s easy to give up when things get tough. When you’re with others you’ll have people to motivate, and push you to do things you likely wouldn’t do otherwise.
  3. Support. On those days when you most want to give up or just can’t seem to move forward, you need to lean on your community for support to get you through.
  4. New ideas.  In a diverse world, there are many views. That is a good thing as it provides many approaches to a problem since everyone sees things differently.
  5. Motivation.  Sometimes all we need to do is look around our community to be inspired.
  6. Accountability.  When you’re accountable to others you are more likely to “step up to the plate” and accomplish something.

There is no doubt, in my view, that we need community; that we need one another simply because we cannot do it alone. The poet, John Donne, says it best when he said, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” We need one another therefore we have a duty to take care of one another. There is an idiom that says, “I am not my brother’s keeper”, but I say we are our brother’s keeper. That is what Pope Francis is saying. If humanity is to survive, we must take care of one another. I would add we also need to take care of our home, the planet earth, as well because I know the pope would agree with that as well.

Why is the Vatican Still Stonewalling Pope Francis?

A commentary on the sexual abuse scandal in religious institutions

Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped)CBC recently had a story that caught my attention. The story was called, Leading member of pope’s sex abuse panel quits, says Vatican is stonewalling. I haven’t heard much about the sexual abuse scandal in a long time, so I naturally assumed that the church had dealt with the issue. It seems I was wrong.

The news article reports that Marie Collins, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, quit out of frustration because of the lack of co-operation from other Vatican offices, known as the Curia. Ms. Collins claims there is “cultural resistance” at the Vatican that include some officials refusing the pope’s instructions to reply to all correspondence from abuse survivors. Collins wondered if the continuing reluctance to address the problem is “driven by internal politics, fear of change, clericalism which instills a belief that ‘they know best’ or a closed mindset which sees abuse as an inconvenience?”

clapping-hands-transparent-b-g-mdNow I applaud Pope Francis as I sincerely believe  he is trying to correct a wrong. A CBC article, Pope condemns “evil” child abuse, reports that in 2014, Pope Francis made his first public plea for forgiveness for the “evil” committed by priests who molested children. He then stated, “I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil that some priests… [committed]… to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children.” He went on to say, “The Church is aware of this … personal, moral damage carried out by men of the Church, and we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem…” It was then that Pope Francis set up the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, a commission whose job was to propose the best initiatives for protecting minors and vulnerable adults, so that everything possible was done to ensure that no more children are abused by predator priests.

Historically, there was a systematic cover up by bishops and other Catholic hierarchy in many dioceses around the world to cover up the crimes of pedophile priests who raped children and committed other sexual abuses. This was done by moving allegedly abusive priests to other parishes, where abuse often continued. Protection of the institutional church became of all-encompassing importance to the Catholic hierarchy. Here is a brief history of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, reports of clergy sexually abusing children first surfaced in the mid 1980s. In the mid-1990s a number of books were published on the topic. The topic became the focus of intense scrutiny and debate after the Boston Globe published a series of articles covering cases of sexual abuse in the Boston archdiocese.

The National Catholic Reporter reports that in January of 2002, a Judge ordered Boston Cardinal Bernard Law to turn over 10,000 pages of records. The Boston Globe used this evidence to initiate an extensive series on clerical sexual abuse in the archdiocese. It was the Globe and Mail that revealed that John Geoghan, a former Boston priest, who was accused of abusing more than 130 children during his 30 years as a priest and as a result was convicted of molesting a child in 1991 and sentenced to 9-10 years in prison where he was killed by a inmate.

According to a study being conducted by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, about 4% of priests committed an act of sexual abuse on a minor between 1950 and 2002. However, it should be noted that the graphs and statistics sited in the report end before the Boston scandal.

The sexual abuse of children under the age of consent by priests has been reported in the United States, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Belgium, France, Germany and Australia as well as other nations throughout the world. Many of the cases spanned several decades and were brought forward years after the abuse occurred.

This abuse is not unique to the Catholic church. Wikipedia has a list of abuse allegations that occurred in Jewish communities, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), the Anglican Church, as well as other religious institutions.

It isn’t just prevalent in religious communities. In Portland, Ore, a jury reached a $1.4 million verdict against the Boy Scouts of America in a trial that showed that since the 1920s, Scouts officials kept “perversion files” on suspected abusers but kept them secret.

The Huffington Post reports that in June 17, 2012 then Pope Benedict XVI told Irish Catholics that it is a “mystery” to him why priests and other church officials have been abusing children entrusted to their care for at least the past several decades.

Much of the abuse in the Catholic church was directed towards altar boys. I was an altar boy in the 1960s so I could have easily been one of those victims. Thankfully, I wasn’t. I can easily see how the abuse occurred. In the 1960s it was taught that the “holy fathers” (priests in other words) were directly consecrated by God.  These men believed they were Christ’s representatives on earth and were acting on Christ’s behalf.  These men were often put in charge of large numbers of children who have been taught that priests are God’s representatives and must be obeyed in all matters. You can see how easily abusing young children would have been. Talk about a “betrayal of trust.” I personally knew some of the priests who were accused of sexual abusing children.

I also personally know people who have experienced sexual abuse, none of which were by priests however. Nonetheless, I’ve seen firsthand what this abuse has did to them. People who were abused as children become damaged adults. Sexual Assault Services of Saskatchewan (SASS) is a provincial membership organization that supports agencies who offer services to survivors of sexual assault and abuse. This organization says survivors experience many of these responses after sexual assault or abuse:

  • Diminished self-esteem with frequent feelings of shame, humiliation, guilt, anger, and powerlessness
  • Negative self/body image and feelings of ugliness associated with shame and embarrassment of body
  • Physical symptoms of stress – such as headaches, stomach upsets, eating and sleeping problems, lethargy
  • Increased anxieties or tendency towards depression or depressive behaviour
  • Feelings of anger, fear, rage, couple with numbness and disconnection from shock
  • Increased isolation from others, withdrawn or difficulty trusting others
  • Erratic mood swings from hyper-alert to inconsolable grief to aggressive
  • Increased usage of alcohol or drugs to numb or cope with feelings and memories
  • Self-harm such as cutting, burning or scratching as way to numb or cope with feelings
  • Difficulty in returning to usual behaviours with inter-personal relationships
  • No or little desire for sexual intimacy
  • Increase in risky sexual behaviours
  • Flashbacks of the incident(s) and fear of being alone
  • Nightmares or other sleep disturbances
  • Loss of employment or school time due to inability to concentrate

This is why, in my view, sexual abuse by clergy is so difficult to comprehend. These men were supposed to be holy folks; people who carry out God’s work, yet they carried out heinous acts. This is why, in my view, crimes by the priesthood or a minister are so much graver and need to be taken seriously. Furthermore, those at the top of the hierarchy who knew of these scandalous acts, and yet still protected the abusers, should be even more shamefaced. I applaud Pope Francis for trying to prevent these atrocious crimes from happening again, but it seems there is still resistance within the church to deal with the issue seriously.

weeping-jesusThe Guardian quotes Father Thomas Doyle, a former canonical lawyer at the Vatican’s Washington embassy, as saying, “One of the massive holes in the Roman Catholic church’s approach to this issue, still today, is a failure to completely comprehend the depth of the spiritual damage that is done to the victims, to their families, especially their parents, to their friends and to the community itself.”  It is not difficult to understand why the faithful are confused when they were taught that sexual acts outside of marriage were intrinsically evil, always a mortal sin (an action that leads to a separation from God’s saving grace), and never moral, regardless of intention or circumstance. To preach one thing and act in opposition to what was taught would confuse anyone. I’m sure Jesus must be weeping.

Remembering 9/11 and Rethinking Terrorism.

A commentary on terrorism.

2011-09-11-schorwtc1
From Huffington Post

This week is the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States. The world changed that day. I distinctly remember feeling that way when I learned of the horrific acts of terror effected that day. Mohammed Adam wrote a column in the Ottawa Citizen entitled, Fearful shadows of 9/11 still haunt Muslims, where he wrote:

Post-9/11, Islam was vilified and many Muslims were attacked and hounded as potential terrorists. Muslim women in particular, easily identifiable by their hijabs, faced verbal abuse, intimidation and even violence. A lot of bad things — the Iraq war, torture, Guantanamo — all happened. Draconian laws that curtailed age-old freedoms were passed, including here in Canada.

There has been a rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes in recent months especially since Donald Trump, Republican presidential nominee, has been spouting his rhetoric about a Muslim immigration ban.  The Guardian article, Hate crimes and attacks against Muslims, reports the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair) published new data showing that incidents against Muslims in California increased by 58% between 2014 and 2015, and that communities throughout the US are seeing similar trends.

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From National Post

Many French Riviera mayors imposed a ban on full-body bathing suits known as burkinis this summer. France’s top court later ruled that basic freedoms were infringed upon and that mayors had overstepped their powers when they decreed a ban on burkinis at the beach. BBC News reports that French cities, such as Nice, have since lifted the controversial ban to be in line with a national court ruling. French opinion polls suggested most French people backed the burkini bans igniting fierce debate in France and around the world, with Muslims saying they were being unfairly discriminated against. Now I think the court decision was the right decision. It is simply discriminatory for one group with one set of values to tell another group that their set of values is wrong or at the very least unwelcome.

Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped)Even Pope Francis, leader of the world’s Catholics, defends Muslims. In the CBC article, Pope Francis defends Muslims, the pope says,

“I think it is not right to identify Islam with terrorism. It is not right and it is not true. I don’t like to talk about Islamic violence because every day when I look at the papers I see violence here in Italy – someone killing his girlfriend, someone killing his mother-in-law. These are baptized Catholics. If I speak of Islamic violence, I have to speak of Catholic violence. Not all Muslims are violent.”

The pope went on to talk about the causes of terrorism. He said,

“I know it is dangerous to say this but terrorism grows when there is no other option and when money is made and it, instead of the person, is put at the centre of the world economy. I ask myself how many young people that we Europeans have left devoid of ideals, who do not have work. Then they turn to drugs and alcohol or enlist in ISIS.”

Now  I certainly don’t agree with everything Pope Francis says but I agree with him on this. I agree that terrorism is related to social problems. Terrorism is defined by Dictionary.com as the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes. With that definition one could argue that many if not most acts of violence are acts of terrorism. Let’s look at the city of Chicago, Illinois in the United States as an example. That city has been making news headlines lately because of its high rate of gun violence. CNN reports in its report, 500 homicides. 9 months. 1 American city, that on Labor Day weekend Chicago’s 500th homicide of the year took place.  These are Americans carrying out acts of terror on one another and I suspect the majority of violent acts are not carried out by Muslims. So I asked myself, Why? This article says there are nearly 82 shootings per week. What does that tell me? Guns are too readily available but that is a whole other post. But why would people want to carry out acts of violence? Some Chicagoans blame the violence on economic struggles and lack of jobs. What’s interesting to note is Chicago’s unemployment rate fell from 6.1% in 2015 to 5.5% in 2016. Others say social problems are the root cause of the violence. Regardless of the cause, my point is that there is so much media emphasis on Islamic extremism when really there is much more terrorism being caused by non-Muslims. Most acts of terrorism are carried out by home grown  non-Muslim citizens.

In our local paper recently there was headline titled, Mobile Muslims launch 40-day campaign. The story explained that members of the Muslim community stopped in our little town spreading teachings of peace and love in hopes of changing their religion’s stereotype. One of the Mobile Muslims said, “There are many and false teachings associated with Islam and we need to dispel them.” CBC did a piece on this group called, Muslims go on cross-country tour. Kudos to the Mobile Muslims who are trying to set the record straight. It’s time to stop blaming terrorism on the all Muslims.  The number of radical Muslims who practice terrorism is only a small group.

But let’s not forget that radicalism is not unique to Islam. The news site, AlterNet.org, published an article called, 6 Modern-Day Christian Terrorist Groups You Never Hear About, which talks about six Christian terrorist groups. These are groups like the “Army of God” who openly promote killing abortion providers and who also have a history of promoting violence against the LGBT community. It also talks about “The Lord’s Resistance Army” (LRA) who according to Human Rights Watch, has committed thousands of killings and kidnappings. It seems terrorism does not exclusively belong to Muslim extremists. The Christian religion has had its fair share of extremists. Terrorism, no matter who carries it out, is WRONG! Discrimination against any group is WRONG! It’s time we focus on building a world of tolerance and understanding.

Pope Francis: A Breath of Fresh Air

Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped)This month, Pope Francis, leader of the world’s Catholics, was breaking new ground when he made the statement, “People who started a new union after the defeat of their sacramental marriage are not at all excommunicated, and they absolutely must not be treated that way. They always belong to the church.” (see Pope calls for compassion). Even more, Pope Francis goes on to say, “How can we recommend to parents to do everything they can to educate their children in Christian life, giving them an example of a convinced and practiced faith if we keep them at arm’s length from the community as if they were excommunicated?”

In essence, Pope Francis is saying remarried Catholics are not automatically removed from church membership, although the church’s rules say such couples are not allowed to receive communion. The Catholic Church permits remarriage only after a church tribunal rules that the couple’s original marriage is annulled. The pontiff understands  that children of these remarried couples are watching how the church treats divorced families.  What this means is Francis accepts divorced couples as members of the church and says they need to be treated as such.

This is not the first time Pope Francis has shown compassion towards those looked upon less favourably in the Catholic Church.  Back in June of 2013 the pontiff made a bold statement during an interview saying, he doesn’t have any problem with the inclination to homosexuality itself.  He is quoted as saying, “Who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?”  (See Pope Francis reaches out to gays).  It  would seem that the pope accepts gays and lesbians as well.

It is so wonderful to have this “breath of fresh air” in the Catholic Church.  Finally, the Catholic Church has a leader who is pastoral, who is welcoming, and most importantly, who is more inclusive than his predecessors have been.  It seems to me, that when a church claims to follow the teachings and example of Jesus, then their actions need to reflect that.  I honestly believe that His Holiness, Pope Francis is doing just that.  He especially demonstrated this when in November of 2013, when the pontiff paused  to pray and lay his hands on a man with a disfiguring disease.  (See Francis embrace of a Disabled man) If that action doesn’t say, loving acceptance I don’t know what does.

Why is it so important for the leader of a Christian Institution to be so all-inclusive? Very simply, because Christians purport to  be the embodiment of Jesus on earth, therefore the institution must act and teach as Jesus did.  According to biblical stories Jesus was all-inclusive!  Let us look at some examples.

Take the story of the Woman at the Well as told in John 4:7 – 26, for example. To summarize the biblical story, Jesus  and his disciples were traveling from Jerusalem to Galilee.  They took the quickest route which was through Samaria. Tired and thirsty, Jesus sat by Jacob’s Well, while his disciples went to a village to buy food. During his wait, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman who came to the well to draw water.  When Jesus met this woman at the well, he did something atypical, scandalous really, in that he spoke to a Samaritan; a group the Jews traditionally loathed. Even more scandalous, Jesus asked  the Samaritan woman to get him a drink of water, which would have made him ceremonially unclean, according to the Jewish faith, because he used the same cup or jar as the Samaritan woman.

To help understand how powerful this story is and just how all-inclusive Jesus was, we must understand that the hatred between Jews and Samaritans was intense and long-standing.  Jews, who considered themselves pure, detested the mixed marriages and worship of the Samaritans. Thus, a faithful Jew would never go near a Samaritan let alone talk to one.

Mark 2:15-17 tells the story of Jesus sitting down to a meal in Levi’s house, the home of a tax collector.  Tax collectors were for the most part Jewish people, and therefore they were hated by their own people. When they collected taxes they would collect the required amount of money for Rome, plus some additional money for themselves. They were considered to be extortioners of large sums of money. Plus, there was the fact that tax collectors worked for Rome, who were Gentiles (non Jewish) in the eyes of the Jews, and so they were treated similar to the worst kinds of sinners and prostitutes.  So for Jesus to sit down and have a meal with one of these tax collectors would have been scandalous to say the least.  Yet, it says that Jesus accepts even those most loathed by his community.

Jesus touching and healing a leper as told in In Mark 1:40-45 is another example . What makes this story so incredible is the fact that lepers were cursed, not only with a terrible disease, but also with exclusion from society. People wanted to keep far away from those with this contagious illness. Lepers lived in the outskirts of civilization and, if they came close to people, had to warn them by yelling, “Unclean! Unclean!”  Yet, Jesus was willing touch and heal such a person.  Was this not an incredible act of acceptance?

Thumbs upSo as you can clearly see, the biblical Jesus accepted and included even those most marginalized by society. So to restate my point.  If the Catholic church claims to enbody Jesus on earth, then it must be all-inclusive just as Jesus was all-inclusive.  That is why Pope Francis is such a “breath of fresh air.”  He accepts all those that have been traditionally marginalized by the church. So “Thumbs up” for Pope Francis!