Take the Red-Eye

and get some shut-eye…

Pope Francis is pictured after answering questions from journalists aboard his flight from Iqaluit, in the Canadian territory of Nunavut, to Rome July 29, 2022. (CNS photo/Paul Haring

It beggars belief that the bishop of Rome would visit Canada, to cement a series of apologies for Catholic failings in the residential schools affair, without taking a considered position on the charge of genocide. Yet that is what his press remarks on the flight home would suggest. Here’s the relevant bit, italics added:

Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press: Good evening Pope Francis, My name is Brittany Hobson. I am a reporter with the Canadian press. You have often spoken on the need to speak clearly, honestly, forthrightly, and with parrhesia. You know that Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission described the residential school system as “cultural genocide.” This has since been amended to just “genocide.” Those who were listening to your apologies the past week did express disappointment that the word genocide was not used. Would you use those words and accept that members of the Church participated in genocide?

Pope Francis: It’s true, I didn’t use the word because it didn’t occur to me, but I described the genocide and asked for pardon, forgiveness for this work that is genocidal. For example, I condemned this too: Taking away children and changing culture, changing mentalities, changing traditions, changing a race, let’s say, a whole culture. Yes, it’s a technical word, genocide, but I didn’t use it because it didn’t come to mind, but I described it. It is true; yes, it’s genocide. Yes, you all, be calm. You can say that I said that, yes, that it was genocide.

This is especially puzzling, not only because Francis didn’t take up Hobson’s implicit invitation to distinguish between genocide and “cultural genocide” (it is the latter to which he refers, not the former) but also because his official addresses suggest that careful thought was given to matters of substance and to positioning for further debate.

Fr Raymond de Souza has offered a constructive account of Francis’s layered efforts to effect a suitable apology. He rightly draws on the key paragraph of the Maskwacis address of 25 July:

Although Christian charity was not absent, and there were many outstanding instances of devotion and care for children, the overall effects of the policies linked to the residential schools were catastrophic. What our Christian faith tells us is that this was a disastrous error, incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is painful to think of how the firm soil of values, language and culture that made up the authentic identity of your peoples was eroded, and that you have continued to pay the price of this. In the face of this deplorable evil, the Church kneels before God and implores his forgiveness for the sins of her children (cf. John Paul II, Bull Incarnationis Mysterium [29 November 1998), 11: AAS 91 [1999], 140). I myself wish to reaffirm this, with shame and unambiguously. I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the indigenous peoples.

This paragraph is well balanced.  The residential schools run by Catholics were not devoid of charity, nor of the Christian mission to share the gospel with indigenous peoples. They were, however, deeply compromised by policies—not generally of the church’s own making—the effect of which was to deprive indigenous peoples of their culture and identity. Some of those responsible for their operation sinned greatly in this regard and it is right and proper in all sincerity to seek forgiveness and reconciliation for the harm done.

The same admirable balance was found in Francis’s address to Catholics at the indigenous Sacred Heart church.  Francis there proposed, not reconciliation through eschewal of evangelism, which would be a rejection of the Church’s mission, but through eschewal of power politics in favour of brotherly communion. What he called for, observes De Souza, is “a cruciform model of both evangelization and reconciliation.”

Evangelical energy falls into the excess of abuse when it seeks to impose itself by power, to “come down from the cross.” Reconciliation proceeds when the crucified One unites all to himself, including both the abused and the abusers. The goal is no longer to simply acknowledge offenses, but to restore both the violated and the violators to peace through the blood of the cross.

This theme would have been developed best in connection with the Jesuit martyrs, whose absence from his addresses is another great puzzle. To include them, of course, would be to punch a hole in the Romantic vision of indigenous peoples as all about harmony with nature, another theme that (re)appeared in the press interviews on the flight home. It would be to invite consideration of the weaknesses and sins of indigenous cultures, not only of colonial cultures, and of the need of both for the saving graces of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

No attempt at reconciliation that fails to reference Canada’s patron saints and the missions recounted in the Jesuit Relations makes any sense to me. It is by them that the successes and failures of subsequent missions can be measured. But at least Francis went on to urge, during his visit to Quebec, a recovery both of the motherly spirit of saints Anne, Mary, and Kateri and of the entrepreneurial spirit of St François de Laval. For the church’s work can be carried out, and often was carried out, not by reliance on the state but in the full liberty of the gospel.

Just here, as De Souza emphasizes, Francis makes a crucial link between the errors of the past and the errors of the present. Catholics and Catholic institutions had indeed, in regard to the residential schools, cooperated in a “deplorable system, promoted by the governmental authorities of the time, which separated many children from their families.” This mistake must not be repeated. But the colonizing mentality of the past has not disappeared. Far from it. Ideological colonization, encourgaged and backed by the state, even to the division of families, is one of the most obvious features of our era. “In the past,” said Francis, in the presence of the prime minister,

the colonialist mentality disregarded the concrete life of people and imposed certain predetermined cultural models; yet today too, there are any number of forms of ideological colonization that clash with the reality of life, stifle the natural attachment of peoples to their values, and attempt to uproot their traditions, history and religious ties. This mentality, presumptuously thinking that the dark pages of history have been left behind, becomes open to the “cancel culture” that would judge the past purely on the basis of certain contemporary categories.

Now, all this being so, Francis might have responded to the Canadian Press correspondent by (a) carefully distinguishing between genocide, of which there was none, and cultural suppression, of which there was certainly some, albeit not as much as many would have us believe; (b) observing that, at their best, both state and church were trying to help indigenous peoples make their way in a much changed situation, not eradicate their cultures; (c) acknowledging that they achieved much good as well as much evil, and that in weighing the latter we must distinguish between accidental, careless, and deliberate evils; (d) insisting that the pot must not call the kettle black—if we are to use the slippery language of “cultural genocide” at all, we must be prepared to apply it also to what is going on today.

That’s expecting a bit much, you may say, for an extemporaneous exchange on a plane. But it could have been done, and indeed the groundwork for doing it was already laid in Francis’s lengthy and nuanced response to the CBC’s Ka’nhehsíio Deer, which lacked only a plain repudiation of certain myths and fictions about the doctrine of discovery. On my view, a good deal of damage was done to an otherwise thoughtful agenda by the failure to provide that, but even more so by the pope’s unscripted and indefensible embrace of the word “genocide,” which (as I’ve argued before) cannot be saved even by prefixing the adjective “cultural.”

Perhaps in Rome damage control is being undertaken as I write. But in Rome, too, there are many inconsistencies. What is the Vatican doing in China, for example, if not cooperating with a state-powered cancel-culture program called Sinicization—a program in which there is suppression of the church’s own culture and, at its extremes, actual genocide among the Uighur? What is it doing in the West, if not cooperating with the equally hubristic cancel-culture program of the globalists who are abusing children and families through “public health” regimes and subjecting large swaths of the populace, against their will, to “policies of assimilation and enfranchisement” or (as with Canadian truckers and Dutch farmers) disenfranchisement? And what shall we say within the sphere of the Church itself, which has its own “diverse traditions and cultures” but apparently can no longer accommodate even the traditional Latin mass communities?

I feared that the papal visit would be little more than a new exercise in cooperation with state power and cultural hegemony. Thankfully, there was something other and more to it than that. Yet I am left wishing, not for the first time, that the pope would learn to take a red-eye home, sans reporters and sans counter-productive improvisation.

(Editor’s note: This essay was originally posted on the “Desiring a Better Country” Substack and is reposted with the permission of the author.)

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About Dr. Douglas Farrow 27 Articles
Douglas Farrow is Professor of Theology and Ethics at McGill University, and the author of several books including Theological Negotiations: Proposals in Soteriology and Anthropology (Baker Academic, 2018) and a new commentary on Thessalonians (Brazos, 2020).


  1. Poor Papa, he can’t get a break. He gave a fulsome apology, yet some are never satisfied.

    Proverbs 27:20 Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man.

    Proverbs 30:15-16 The leech has two daughters: Give and Give. Three things are never satisfied; four never say, “Enough”: Sheol, the barren womb, the land never satisfied with water, and the fire that never says, “Enough.”

    • Why should anyone be “satisfied” at listening to a pope fortify what was mostly misinformed anti-Catholic bigotry for the sake of egocentric virtue signaling that only does massive damage to Catholic witness in the world? Confining apologies to individual abusive priests would be commendable, but that was not his focus. He never seems overly concerned about personal abuse, does he?

      • What may one say?

        1 Peter 4:17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

        Titus 2:13 Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ,

        2 Corinthians 13:1 This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

        Romans 8:27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

        Acts 20:28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

        What say you my brother? How do you extrapolate all this? Is the cadence of your own fine mind the quintessential element or do we search the scriptures for discernment and insight?

        You are Catholic, stand tall, yet bow the knee to Christ for it strengthens us.

        Fond regards and blessings to you.

  2. Thank you, Prof. Farrow, for the well-balanced, dispassionate summation of the reasons Francis should travel alone. The contradictions within his messages and the need for Vatican damage control are glaring. Francis again relished and further weakened the church in the spotlight while all the in-flight photographs I’ve seen showed him heartily laughing. Many of us faithful buried our sad, embarrassed, and worried faces in our hands, hoping this may be the last time. But if it is not, Romans 12:12 reminds to pull ourselves up with His help and in His love.

    • One of the few times we see His Holiness laughing and happy is when he “makes a mess”. Other than that he has a dour or even grumpy look.
      Remember for childhood kids liked to make messes, it was fun. Remember too what Mom’s reaction was.
      Maybe the assembly of the faithful, Mother Church, both clergy and laity need to.rise up, with all filial devotion and tell Francis to stop making messes.

      Non reception of his teaching such as Communion for divorced people in unanulled second unions does not seem to be received where I live. Annulments still abound.

  3. There was once a time when Popes were rarely seen and when heard from, it meant something to faithful Catholics.

    • Many have learned from this pope that we can still rarely see or hear from His Holiness. We generally ignore his nonsense.

  4. Yes, what is the point of being accompanied by reporters? It becomes a circus.
    I understand that the North American tribal peoples suffered terribly after European settlement and truthfully if you have visited US reservations you can see that continues on.
    The Catholic and Protestant churches in Canada were taking on a role at the behest of the government. It seems as though those three entities might could meet with tribal people sans cameras and photo ops and heal those wounds with humility.

    • Ego. Yes, the pope has an ego.
      one could retire to the back and pray one’s office (yeah, right) or one could give a press conference….

  5. I have been waiting for Dr. Farrow’s report on the papal visit. He does not disappoint. Yes, if only Pope Francis knew when to shut up or at least listen to someone who knows.

  6. When are we going to stop judging the past by the customs or norms of OUR CURRENT TIME i.e. 2022. What happened in the past needs be judged by the yardstick of their moment in time.

    • Absolutely- and the Catholic and Protestant missionaries and homes were picking up on the gap left by government policies – that government that had been elected by the people.

  7. All I can say is that the controversial, thought misplaced verbiage, ‘cultural genocide’ has validity in context perceived from personal experience as a missionary priest in our SouthWest. I addressed what that was in my comment to E Short’s “Opinion: What Dr Johnson” and reference to Boswell’s critique of Francis’ inner hatred of proselytizing, elicited conversion he [Francis] associates with colonialism.
    America had a similar policy of transforming Native Americans into culturally oriented White Americans. The same placing of children in distant, remote places, indoctrination, suppression of Navajo language and customs. Outcome, inability to adopt to White culture, rejection, a sense of meaningless bereft of identity. Suicides became highest worldwide. Young men found hanging from limbs with barbed wire fencing. Drunkenness rampant beyond description here.
    Whatever Pope Francis’ interior motivations may be, and Farrow draws that out in his article, there are some things Francis gets right. There’s an old adage, Give the devil his due that might fit. But I won’t say it.

    • Thousands of members of the Sonoran Yaqui Indian tribe were rounded up by Mexico & sold to plantations in the Yucatan. That was in the 20th century. They had to endure a forced 300-kilometer march & concentration camp conditions. Yaqui Indian women were only allowed to marry Chinese men & most Yaqui plantation workers died within a year after arrival.
      There were worse things than Indian schools.
      I think there’s healing & forgiveness needed everywhere. Not just Canada.

  8. This kind of “journeying” brings to life what can be seen in the Gnostic texts/Nag Hammadi. It is not Christian. Though it may be an attempt to “make friends” or just establish contacts, its immediate and widespread publicizing creates a lot of prejudice and provokes scandal. I find also that the cruciform image rendered as a concept “blood of the cross” alongside the “4 directions” east, south, west and north “doors” and “grandmother”, is, if not blasphemous, then, intellectualism – or, perhaps, is both. It surely has nothing to do with St. Anne.

    Like another idea of having to get vaccinated in order to be fraternal, I can myself NOT attest that it has something to do with baptism.

    It also suggests a falsity going in “rigidity”, in that it would appear that evangelization MUST be like this and not anything else. But if something is wrong nonetheless nobody involved has anything to repent of or to learn.

    The saving factor is perhaps the open display, in that there can be no contention over what happened and who did and said what, etc.

    The YOUTUBE link was found in the 1P5 article.

    CFN Highlights: Pagan Ritual during Papal Visit to Canada
    Premiered Jul 30, 2022 Clipped from the July 28, 2022 episode of CFN’s Weekly News


  9. Another dynamic in acculturation, Govt policy toward Native Americans, interestingly, apparently reasonable was what tribe the Bureau of Indian Affairs imposed their forced schooling program. Our Pueblo, meaning village people, were just that. When ‘Manifest Destiny’ minded Americans pushed West they found a people, the Pueblo tribes, Laguna, Acoma, Zuni et al already speaking Spanish [as well as their native tongue] highly ordered communities taught by Franciscans for centuries. They were not induced. Apaches, Jicarilla,Mescalero, White Mountain et al [except the fiercest Geronimo’s Chiricahua who were all shipped to FL] were not, to any major extent because of the difficulties the US Govt had in coming to peaceful terms with these great fighters [Apaches possess some of the most idyllic, luxuriant land in the SW]. Navajo were nomadic, hunters, raiders, dispersed, among the last to be subject to the BIA. After their [approx 10,000] forced trek [by US Cavalry including ‘Indian fighter’ Kit Carson] to Fort Sumner NM Territory, they began to die off due to malnutrition, harsh conditions. The US finally relented and allowed the Navajo to return to their previous lands stretching from N New Mexico to N Arizona, eventually becoming the largest, politically organized tribe in America. It seems all the hardships toughened their spirit. Today a majority of Apache are Catholic, Pueblo at least 80%, Navajo quite small roughly 3% the Franciscan at Window Rock becoming increasingly successful with their education efforts, and proselytizing. There. I said it.

    • A general side note on acculturation across the West…
      After the military “Force Policy” under the likes of General William Tecumseh Sherman (“Americanization at the point of a bayonet”), the added “Peace Policy” initiated under President Grant worked through the placement of Church leaders as agents on the reservations. But, this Peace Policy “discriminated against Catholics in that they were allocated only a small number of the agent positions [7 of the 94 initial appointments] even though they provided considerably more funds for Indian work than any other religious body [over half of the total donation for missions]. This discrimination against Roman Catholics caused divisions in the ‘Peace Policy’ movement and contributed to its early demise [after 1876]” (Arrell Morgan Gibson, University of Oklahoma, “The American Indian: Prehistory to the Present,” Heath and Co. 1980; with citation).

      • At the time you reference, Grant, who I consider a just man, notes in his ‘Memoirs US Grant’ that the Mex Am War [in which he fought under Winfield Scott] was an unjust war of conquest, nevertheless gives indication that he was a typical prejudiced 19th century Protestant fearful of Catholic influence within the Nation. In a 1875 [Grant president 1869-77] military reunion speech to the Army of Tennessee he said, “If we are to have another contest in the near future of our national existence I predict that the dividing line will not be Mason & Dixon, but between patriotism & intelligence on the one side & superstition, ambition & ignorance on the other”. Catholics widely understood the latter other side reference to Catholicism. Catholicism had a head start prior to US expansion in the West with Franciscan and Jesuit missionary efforts. Except for the Navajo who didn’t become a viable settled community until the latter 19th century. Although, notably, in the East the warlike Iroquois Confederation in particular the Mohawk, who are my neighbors in W NYS] are predominantly Catholic. Jesuit missionaries willing to suffer hardship and martyrdom deserve the credit. As is Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.

  10. It appears now that Pope Francis’ apologies did little to slake the Indians’ thirst for reconcilliation. It did, however, alienate many non-natives who felt totally ignored by the Pope.

    • Apologies are nice, but without reparations, they are just words, however sincere. I strongly suspect that the First Nation abuse “victims”, their descendants, and especially their leaders and spokesmen are looking for something a little more tangible from the Church as compensation for the offenses committed against them – real, embellished or completely made-up.

  11. 2080 News Headline: “Pope Bamboozle apologizes for the Catholic Church’s role in keeping the abortion clinics in operation, Encouraging societal hedonism.”
    “While abortions were never publicly supported and often denounced by some, Pope Bamboozle will apologize for the catholic aborter’s public policies which guaranteed that children were killed as often as possible.
    Today some churches in 2080 are incorporating heart removal from live victims in a mixture of native and catholic ceremonies done for inclusivity and as form of unity with the sacrifice of Christ. Pope Bamboozle has not commented on the issue. But he did say heart removal is work of witch doctors.”

    On another note I too was forced to go to school where the Catholic culture was practically erased from memory. I want reparations from the Masons for their abusive and genocidal laws and societal manipulations.

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