Mississauga pastor under fire for comments about 'good that was done' by residential schools
Published Thursday, June 24, 2021 2:06PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, June 24, 2021 4:16PM EDT
A Mississauga pastor has issued a public apology for comments he made about the “good that was done” in residential schools operated by the Catholic Church.
Pastor Owen Keenan of Merciful Redeemer Parish made the controversial remarks during a sermon as he referenced the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the site of former residential school in British Columbia.
"Two thirds of the country is blaming the church, which we love, for the tragedies that occurred there," Keenan said in a clip of the sermon posted to Reddit. “Now I presume that 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.”
Keenan has faced significant criticism on social media for his remarks, which come amid a national reckoning regarding Canada’s residential schools system.
In a statement sent to CP24, Keenan acknowledged “the pain and anger which has been magnified” as a result of the portion of his remarks that have circulated on social media and pledged “to do better.”
The apology comes as news surfaces that up to 751 unmarked graves have been found at the site of a former residential school in Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan.
“I am deeply sorry, embarrassed, ashamed and shocked at the revelations of abuse, destruction and harm done in residential schools across this country,” Keenan said. “As a Catholic and a Priest, I in no way condone the residential school system, I regret deeply that these places existed, and I lament the harm that was caused. If and when I get a chance to meet survivors, I will seek their forgiveness.”
An estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children attended residential schools between the 1860s and 1996.
A report released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 documented a wide range of mistreatment at the schools, including the emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children.
It also noted that there were at least 4,100 deaths associated with the schools.
During a briefing on Thursday morning, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie read a prepared statement in which said that she was “extremely disappointed” to learn about Keenan’s “deeply insensitive” comments.
She also added that she had already spoken with Keenan personally and told him “his comments have no place in Mississauga.”
“His comments show a fundamental misunderstanding of one of the core tragedies of the residential schools system in Canada; that children were forcibly separated from their parents,” she said. “For the first time we are truly confronting our history and learning the truth about what really happened. I grieve for the hundreds and likely thousands of children in the unmarked graves who never had a full life and experienced tremendous pain and suffering and deep sadness.”
A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Toronto has said that Keenan will “not be presiding at any services in the coming days, including this weekend.”
The Archdiocese has also released a statement expressing its dismay with the pastor’s remarks.
“The archdiocese has been in contact with Msgr. Keenan to convey the deep pain and anger felt by those hurt by his words,” the statement reads. “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. We apologize to anyone who was offended by his remarks.