Catholic Church owes Americans it wronged an apology

The visit of the Superior General (also called Father General) of the Jesuits to any country is normally announced with fanfare and pride. It is therefore curious that no announcement, press release or headline accompanied the Reverend Arturo Sosa, Superior General of the Jesuits, on a trip to the United States. He is currently a member of the International Association of Jesuit Universities at Boston College and will later meet other Jesuits.

The Superior General’s trip contrasts with the pomp and press surrounding Pope Francis’ recent penitential pilgrimage to Canada.

I discovered his visit by consulting the agenda of the meeting, as well as by reading his address to the assembly on Thursday, entitled “Discerning the present to prepare the future of the university teaching of the Company of Jesus”.

The Superior General’s trip contrasts with the pomp and press surrounding Pope Francis’ recent penitential pilgrimage to Canada, during which he offered his apologies on behalf of the Church to First Nations peoples whose families and communities have been marked by the horrific abuse suffered by students in Catholic boarding schools.

I can’t help wondering why Father General didn’t accompany Pope Francis on his visit to Canada, or schedule a meeting with African Americans whose family members were enslaved and sold to keep Georgetown University, America’s first Jesuit university, afloat in 1838. Surely this deserves an apology from the head of the religious order who would not have been able to run an institution key without selling human beings.

As I wrote recently about the Pope’s visit to Canada, an in-person apology — or any kind of apology — is just the first step in a complex process of generational healing. And even so, we need more. As I have said, “reparations for the generations of physical and mental abuse suffered by First Nations families in these Catholic residential schools must not only be promised, but actually paid, even if no money is sufficient “. The same goes for black people in America and others who have suffered at the hands of Catholic institutions.

There was no official statement on Superior General Sosa’s visit. Boston College and the Province of New York have been contacted for comment, but no response has been received.

I’m sure if there was an official explanation for not coming to Canada with Pope Francis, it would probably include the fact that Sosa was celebrating Mass for the Feast of Saint Ignatius, founder of the order, on July 31 in Loyola, Spain just after the Pope’s visit to Canada; it is an important day for the Jesuits, marking the 500th anniversary of the order. Sosa visited Canada in 2018, although he did not issue an apology on that trip, but explained how Pope Francis would more than likely apologize on behalf of the church.

Shouldn’t the superior general of the Jesuits visiting America at least take the time to meet some of the descendants of the slaves sold to operate the first Jesuit university in America?

For those who are not part of the Catholic Church, this journey of Father General will not be new. But for those who have both benefited and been harmed by the order, it is extremely important.

In the past, Jesuits have made statements and held reconciliation meetings on issues of sexual abuse and slavery. Jesuits in Canada have made statements and apologies for the abuses that took place in the Spanish residential schools. Similar statements have been made in the United States, such as the deal with GU272, the descendants of people enslaved and sold by Jesuit priests to keep Georgetown in business.

As a former professor in a Jesuit institution, I know it is important for Fr. General to speak and preside over a mass at which leaders of Jesuit higher education have come from all over the world. Perhaps there is no nefarious reason for a quiet visit. But the timing of this particular visit, kept secret, is suspicious.

On the other hand, much like my criticism of the Catholic Church’s lack of funding for First Nations people (only a fraction of the promised $25 million has been raised so far), the same can be said for the efforts of the Jesuits at Georgetown. The descendants of slaves sold by the Jesuits in Georgetown demand more. To date, the Jesuits have pledged to raise $100 million, but that money will not come directly from the order, but from fundraising. So far, this amount has not been increased. Georgetown has so far pledged to raise $400,000 a year for college tuition for descendants of people enslaved and sold by the university, but many believe that is not enough.

This model of fundraising to pay for the sins committed by the Catholic Church and religious orders like the Jesuits is a distraction. Flowery statements are brandished on the websites but the amounts are not increased, which means that real repairs and true healing do not occur. And although an apology was made early in the process in Georgetown, we saw nothing official from the Superior General.

Shouldn’t the superior general of the Jesuits visiting America at least take the time to meet some of the descendants of the slaves sold to operate the first Jesuit university in America? Would it hurt to apologize and have a talk?

As someone who has benefited from both Jesuit education and spirituality, it is disheartening to have to wonder why the Superior General of the Jesuits has not seen fit to make his presence in the United States publicly known. Father General’s presence in Boston and his visits to Jesuit provinces during his stay in America resemble a clerical conclave, not a visitation for the Catholic faithful or for those who have been harmed by Jesuit policies, practices and behaviors.

According to the words of Saint Ignatius, love manifests itself more in deeds than in words. I’m not sure this visit is about love. Those to whom we owe an apology from the head of the Jesuit Order would most likely agree.

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