Mississauga pastor faces public backlash over comments about Canada’s residential schools

A Mississauga Catholic church has been defaced following highly controversial comments its pastor made regarding residential schools Sunday.

Monsignor Owen Keenan of Merciful Redeemer Parish told his parish that two-thirds of the country blames the church for the tragedies that occurred in residential schools and went on to suggest some would not agree.

“I presume that the same number would thank the church for the good that was done in those schools, In fact, we’re not allowed to say that good was done in those schools,” explained Keenan during last Sunday’s service.

Read more: ‘They made us believe we didn’t have souls’: Survivors of Saskatchewan residential school speak out

Clips from the service surfaced online and the church removed the link from its YouTube page.

During a COVID-19 update in Mississauga, Mayor Bonnie Crombie spent nearly five minutes denouncing the pastor’s comments Crombie attends the church where Keenan preaches.

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“His comments show a fundamental misunderstanding of one of the core tragedies of the residential school system in Canada,” said Crombie.

“For the first time, we are truly confronting our history and learning the truth about what really happened. I grieve for the hundreds, and likely thousands of children in the unmarked graves who never had a full life and experienced tremendous pain, suffering, and deep sadness.

“As a practicing Catholic, I am wrestling with how the teachings of Jesus Christ to love your neighbour as yourself are reflected in the atrocities that are now coming to light.”

The Chief of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation also denounced the pastor’s actions, asking that he reconsider whether he should continue in the position.

“I think he should take the time, step away and reflect and see if he really wants to continue on in this leadership role or even if he is suited to continue on in this leadership role that he’s assumed,” added Chief Stacey Leforme

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The comments come at a time when the country is in mourning for Indigenous communities. Just last month the remains of 215 children were discovered at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School site in B.C. and now, Cowesses First Nation has announced the discovery of an estimated 751 unmarked graves on the site of a residential school in Saskatchewan.

“We all must put down our ignorance and accidental racism of not addressing the truth that this country has with indigenous people,” explained Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan, during an early morning media conference which saw reporters from around the world attend virtually.

Read more: Catholic order that staffed B.C. residential schools signs agreement on record sharing

In a written statement, Monsignor Keenan apologized for the comments.

“I am deeply sorry, embarrassed, ashamed, and shocked at the revelations of abuse, destruction, and harm done in Residential Schools across this country” the statement read.

“As a Catholic and a Priest, I in no way condone the Residential School System, I regret deeply that these places existed, and I lament the harm that was caused. If and when I get a chance to meet survivors, I will seek their forgiveness.”

But the comments have been met with backlash from the Indigenous community.

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“The federal government identified over 5,300 perpetrators of crimes committed in those schools and they haven’t been brought to justice by either the federal government or the churches, so what this one person is saying is endemic of a very systemic problem in the Catholic church,” said Pamela Palmater, a Mi’kmaw lawyer and Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University.

Ontario’s former regional Chief of Ontario, Isadore Day, also denounced the actions, saying they show the denial encompassing the Roman Catholic church.

“All of the suffering that is happening in our communities —the drug addiction, the sexual abuse, the violence, the domestic things, the lateral violence —all of that comes from Church and state policy,” Day said.

“It truly does and the church speaking out about that and thinking there was some good that happened because of Residential Schools, now is not the time for that and it is so untrue.”

Anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience can access this 24-hour, toll-free, and confidential National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419.

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