Editor’s note: This article contains some disturbing details about residential schools in Canada and may be upsetting to some readers. For those in need of emotional support, the 24-hour Residential Schools Crisis Line is available at 1-866-925-4419.
A Mississauga pastor is receiving criticism and has been temporarily sidelined from performing church services after commenting about “the good done” in the residential school system.
Videos of Monsignor Owen Keenan of Merciful Redeemer Parish speaking about residential schools on June 19 and 20 were posted online.
His comments, in part, were, “I presume the same number would thank the Church for the good that was done in those schools, but of course that question was never asked. And in fact, we are not allowed to even say that good was done in those schools.”
“Many people had very positive experiences of residential schools … they weren’t universally awful.”
Keenan later said, “We don’t know how those children died. We don’t and can’t know if they would have died had they stayed at home.”
The Archdiocese of Toronto said in a statement, they apologized for “anyone who was offended by his remarks.”
“Msgr. Keenan has pledged to fully educate himself, with the appropriate support, to gain a more wholesome understanding of the full history of residential schools and their impact in our country,” read the statement.
Keenan also posted an apology, saying, “I apologize sincerely for any hurt I have caused and pledge to do better, especially at a time when there is a national conversation underway regarding residential schools.”
CityNews reached out to him but has received no response at this time.
The Archdiocese also said he would not be presiding over any services this weekend and in the coming days.
The comments were made after the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. Since then, another 751 unmarked graves were discovered in Saskatchewan.
The Catholic Church played a major role in Canada’s residential school system, overseeing many of the schools that were funded by the federal government.
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said she was disappointed to learn of the comments made by Msgr. Keenan.
“His comments show a fundamental misunderstanding of one of the core tragedies of the residential school system in Canada, that children were forcibly removed from their parents.”
“Residential schools were instruments of cultural genocide used against Indigenous Peoples,” Crombie said.
Dr. Jennifer Adese, Research Chair in Métis Women, Politics, and Community and associate professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga, said she believes someone in his position should be stepping down.
“I would be far more insistent someone in his position step down. It’s not a simple matter of becoming educated and apologizing in front of a congregation,” said Dr. Adese.
She said his comments show, “how much of a gap there is between Indigenous people and the Church, it really highlights that.”
Peel police are also investigating after graffiti was discovered on the church early Thursday morning. They are investigating it as a “hate-motivated” incident.