When Father Paul Bringleson of St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church in Flin Flon preached his Sunday morning homily on June 6, he was not expecting to become the focus of international attention.
The homily, shared after the discovery of the graves at the former Kamloops residential school, went viral online and was published by Maclean’s magazine.
In it, he called on the Catholic Church to apologize for its role in the schools, admit it did wrong and to listen to those it hurt — "no matter how hard that is."
The homily struck a chord with Catholics, including many clergy. So far, Bringleson, 50, said he’s heard from more than 1,000 people from across North America.
He was particularly struck by the messages from fellow priests.
"They say, ‘Thank you for your honesty,’" he said, noting many add, "You said what we are afraid to say, or aren’t sure we can say."
He admitted he wasn’t used to that "level of attention.... I shut down for a bit after it."
What helped him was the support of his congregation and Archdiocese of Keewatin-Le Pas Archbishop Murray Chatlain.
You can hear the full homily on the church’s Facebook page.
"He knows I get a little passionate sometimes," Bringleson said. "My mouth can move faster than my brain. But he is very encouraging of me. He’s a phenomenal man, patient and calm. I wish I could be more like that."
Chatlain said the homily took him aback a bit, but on the other hand, "it wasn’t a big surprise" since Bringleson is "very outspoken."
"He speaks from his heart," he said. "Our Church needs to have room for voices and opinions like that."
Bringleson preached his homily after spending time at his fishing cabin thinking about the discovery of the graves in B.C.
"I don’t think I’ve had a day this week that I haven’t been sick to my stomach," he told his congregation.
He couldn’t explain how it happened, he said. But, he noted, "I don’t have to be an expert in church history... to see that we as priests, and as religious — as a church — we did it wrong. And we’re still doing it wrong, in many ways.
"As a priest, I have a share in that. And that makes me angry."
He acknowledged apologies have been made by some in the Roman Catholic Church, but "it hasn’t been enough. We’re not getting it right."
"He speaks from his heart. Our Church needs to have room for voices and opinions like that." ‐ Murray Chatlain, Archdiocese of Keewatin-Le Pas Archbishop
Bringleson, a recovering alcoholic, said expressing contrition and saying "I'm sorry" is among the 12 Steps in Alcoholics Anonymous programs.
"And then the very next part is shutting my mouth and allowing the people I hurt to have their say, no matter how long it takes, no matter how humiliating that is. That’s the least we can do as a Church."
That will be hard, he said, but added he is committed to listening to the pain of Indigenous people as long as they want to talk to him.
"I have a moral obligation as a disciple of Christ to be present in that pain," he said, acknowledging he feels inadequate for the task.
"But I know enough to recognize a hurting people. And I know enough now to shut my mouth and listen, to call upon my brothers in the priesthood to do the same."
Speaking to his fellow priests, he asked them to "tell anyone who will listen that you’re sorry."
And he said the bishops must participate.
"Take off your robes, your shoes and your rings and your crosses. Sit yourself in a chair. And listen. Listen. Listen until it hurts. And keep listening. Only then, only then will we ever have a shot at healing," he said.
Only then, he said, "will healing truly have a chance of being the reconciliation that the gospel of Jesus Christ demands of us."
And speaking to Indigenous people, he said: "I apologize. We failed you. It’s time for us to be truly accountable for that."
Going forward, the church needs to walk with Indigenous people, "accompany them in their anger and let the anger flow. It has to. It has to in order for the real gospel to be felt and to be experienced."
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.