The Catholic Church has money—lots of it. So why are so many residential school survivors still waiting for compensation?
Last May, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation found unmarked graves near the old Kamloops Indian Residential School. In the fall, the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) announced another fundraising effort to raise $30 million over five years for residential school survivors.
But they’ve made that promise before. According to some people, the Catholic Church still owes Indigenous survivors more than $60 million after signing the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
The CCCB has admitted that they haven’t paid all of the money. But it says it has fulfilled all the legal obligations. Though CBC News asked the CCCB for a dollar figure on the amount raised so far, the Canadian Bishops failed to respond.
That’s not good enough, say residential school survivors and their supporters.
“This has been a struggle for many years, Bonita Benny told CBC. She’s a professor of Indigenous Studies at the University of Saskatchewan Indigenous and a Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation member. “They’ve been patient. They keep hearing broken promises.”
Many residential school survivors are getting old. They can’t wait any longer for Canada’s Catholic Church leaders to raise money. That’s why Benny and others believe it’s time to go to the man in charge for payment.
You got it—they want to go to the Pope.
“It’s a hierarchy,” Benny said. “They report up to the Vatican. So yes, he [Pope Francis] is responsible for the various arms of his government. He can’t just wash his hands of it.”
We know the Catholic Church has the money, and the Pope is the top dog. But details about how much money they have are hard to find. This is because the secretive Church doesn’t open its books unless they’re forced to in court.
We can take a guess, though. The Catholic Church has a real estate empire. The Vatican owns more than 5,000 properties worldwide, with the majority inside Italy. The wider Roman Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental landowner in the world. Their properties add up to about 177 million acres, an area slightly larger than the province of Saskatchewan, as reported by CBC.
They own rare and valuable art. For example, the Vatican considers the works of Michelangelo, Raphael, and other famous artists in its collection to be priceless. But a recent article in New York Magazine said that selling “even a fraction of the works could likely fetch billions.”
And that doesn’t include all the Indigenous art they stole.
The Vatican also holds significant gold reserves, Italian stocks, and other investments. And bad investments, too! A Catholic cardinal on trial for corruption used donor funds to buy a US$338 million property in a fancy London neighbourhood.
The Catholic Church is one of the richest non-governmental organizations on earth. A 2018 investigation of the Church in Australia estimated it is worth $30 billion (Australian dollars) just in that country alone.
Even conservative estimates say they have $100 billion or more worldwide.
You read that right. The Catholic Church has Jeff Bezos-Elon Musk money.
If they have so much money, why are they using Catholic guilt to get other Catholics to donate to their residential school survivor fund?
Can’t they just sell one of their properties?
Indigenous people in Canada were abused at the hands of Catholic priests. The victims of this abuse are now getting old. Making them wait longer for compensation while Vatican City runs around with Bezos’s money is pretty hard to take.
It’s time for these old men in funny hats to pony up some cash for the people they now admit they abused.