A pastor at a Mississauga Catholic Church has come under fire for comments about residential schools made during a service last weekend.
In a video circulated widely on social media, Monsignor Owen Keenan, of Merciful Redeemer Parish, comments on recent polling showing two-thirds of Canadians believe churches that ran residential schools should bear responsibility for abuses that happened there.
“I presume that the same number would thank the church for the good that was done in those schools,” Keenan said in the video. “But of course that question was never asked. And in fact, we’re not allowed even to say that good was done in those schools. I await to see what comes to my inbox.”
In an email to the Star, Keenan apologized for his remarks, writing he apologizes “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.”
Keenan also wrote he does not condone the residential school system and regrets the abuse caused in them. “If and when I get a chance to meet survivors, I will seek their forgiveness,” he said, adding he is committing “to advancing the cause of Truth and Reconciliation.”
On Thursday, Cowessess First Nation announced the discovery of 751 unmarked graves on the site of Marieval Indian Residential School, operated by the Roman Catholic Church. This comes one month after the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
In another clip from the same service, Keenan remarks that he hoped that Catholic school boards “might have had more courage” and flown a Catholic symbol such as the cross or Sacred Heart at schools, instead of raising the Pride flag for the month of June.
Keenan did not respond to questions from the Star about his comments on the Pride flag. Earlier this month, students at a Peel region school filmed the burning of a crumpled Pride flag, leading to the arrest of two teen boys by Peel Regional Police.
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, who attended a mass at Merciful Redeemer when Keenan was installed in 2017, said she was “extremely disappointed” to learn about the comments made by Keenan.
She called his remarks on residential schools “deeply insensitive ... particularly at a time when Indigenous communities are in pain as they unearth more mass graves at the sites of former residential schools.”
Crombie, herself a practicing Catholic, said she is “wrestling” with how the teachings of “love your neighbour as yourself” are reflected in ongoing discoveries of unmarked graves at residential school sites. “No apology from the federal government or the Church will be enough to undo the havoc that was wreaked through these institutions, but an apology is where we must start.”
The mayor also distanced herself from Keenan’s remarks on the Pride flag, saying it stands “in stark contrast” to her own beliefs. Crombie added she has spoken to Keenan, who expressed “shame and remorse” for his comments.
Jenna Moon is a breaking news reporter for the Star and is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @_jennamoon