Conversations with Pope Joyce

One of my favorite books from James Joyce was “Portrait of a Young Man”. In one of the better passages, during a conversation between a younger and older man, the young man confesses that he may have lost his faith. “Does that mean you will become a Protestant then?” the older man asks. The Younger man replies that he had lost his faith, not his brains. Joyce was Irish and at that time during which being a Protestant in Roman Catholic in Ireland was the equivalent of being African-American in the Jim Crow South. His intellectual honesty was suborned to the practical (i.e. financial) reality.

I remembered the quote while reading the response of Pope Francis to the Canadian Government’s attempt to reconcile the atrocities committed on indigenous people, specifically on the issue of the Canadian Boarding School system that forced indigenous children into boarding schools to learn the English language and white man’s culture. Many of the children were physically abused for simple offenses such using their native language or clothes. Children were sexually abused. Many were beaten or starved to death as part of the “discipline” meted out by the staff of these boarding “schools”. Virtually all of the facilities were run by Roman Catholic religious or Protestant missionaries. The Pope has refused to apologize without explanation for the role of the Church in the horrible abuse of generations of these children. Why would the leader of the Church refuse to renounce its role in the abuse and murder of indigenous children?

No explanation is needed. For this Pope, and the ones before him, the issue is not about their religious duty to the most vulnerable of its victims. The issue is that by apologizing for their well-documented abuse of these children, they admit some responsibility and that means paying victims money. It seems shameful, and it is. However, just as Joyce acknowledged the reality of how renouncing religion can affect one’s welfare in a society controlled by religion, the Holy Roman Catholic Church recognizes how acknowledging its sins can affect its bottom line. One could easily imagine the Pope in a conversation with his Cardinals…

Pope Francis: I am thinking that we shouldn’t have run these boarding schools that physically and sexually abused and murdered children in Canada.

Cardinals: Does that mean you will be apologizing then?

Pope Francis: I said I think we shouldn’t have tortured and killed those children, not lost my mind…

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