Beyond the pomp and ceremony, what should we ask of the Catholic Church?

Pope Francis is in Canada this week to meet with Indigenous Peoples. That’s the big news dominating Canadian and international headlines.

There is little hope that the Pope will renounce a pair of centuries-old papal bulls, the basis of colonization and slavery. But don’t hold your breath.

The big question was whether Pope Francis would repeat an apology he made this spring to Inuit, Métis and First Nations children who survived abuse at the hands of priests and nuns in Canada’s residential schools.

That apology shifted the blame onto some bad apples, individual priests and nuns. He blames them for what happened.

A broader statement, one on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church accepting responsibility for its role as Canada’s voluntary partner in a genocidal residential schools policy, is now less likely after monday’s apology.

Regardless of what happens next, the focus will continue to be on the reactions of Indigenous Peoples, while almost no attention will be paid to understanding the institution of the Roman Catholic Church, the other character in this story.

Most people learn about the Roman Catholic Church through their local priest or nun and the things they do in their community.

They lead mass, celebrate marriages, baptisms, and funerals, hear confessions, encourage moral and ethical behavior, organize local charities, provide spiritual guidance to the wounded who walk among us, and much more.

In short, the Church does a good job, saving souls from despair or damnation in this life or the next. This may be the only Catholic church they know. That’s perfectly fine.

The part of the Church that you may not know is more like a multinational corporation, but with huge differences.

Critical attention will be focused on the operations and decisions of the Church and the survivors of residential schools, posing an old but effective diversion: What do Indigenous Peoples really want? write Thaiorénióhté Dan David @Shmohawk_ca #PopeInCanada

The Roman Catholic Church is the only religion in the world with an independent city-state as its international headquarters, with branches in almost every country in the world, with a seat in the United Nations, recognized by international law, and protected by its own army called the Swiss Guard.

High officials of the Catholic Church travel on diplomatic passports and conduct business under the direction of the Pope.

Vatican City is not Rome. It’s not Italy. Vatican City is another country that makes and enforces its own laws, has its own prisons, as well as its own postal and communications services.

Vatican City has museums and libraries with valuable collections of arts and crafts from around the world.

Like any municipality, Vatican City has a civil service that manages various departments, such as roads, water and sewage, etc.

It does not charge taxes to run these services. It operates with funds raised from collection plates and donations channeled to the Vatican from nearly every Catholic church in nearly every country in the world.

All of these operations are run by the Holy See, the governing body of Vatican City, and the global spiritual institution called the Roman Catholic Church.

The Holy See is made up of a council of bishops, but it is governed by one person: its elected and supreme monarch, the Pope.

As such, it guides the spiritual beliefs of close to two billion people worldwide, representing almost a third of all people registered in a major religion.

All of this means that the Roman Catholic Church is more than a religious institution, but a multinational organization with tremendous global political and economic influence.

No other religious institution, neither Islam nor Hinduism with its billions of believers, can claim to wield such power and influence.

Like any global institution, the Vatican is very careful about the image and reputation of the Pope, the Roman Catholic Church, its various sects and agencies, every bishop, priest and nun.

Borrowing a term from modern advertising, the Church jealously guards and protects its brand, developed over centuries.

Every public statement will be carefully considered and controlled just as any multinational organization does.

In my opinion, this means that we can expect critical attention to shift away from Church operations and decisions and toward residential school survivors, raising an old but effective diversion: What do they really want? native populance?

Instead, journalists will be encouraged to appreciate the pomp and ceremony, the throngs of non-indigenous worshipers who flock to pay homage to their visiting monarch.

They will be urged to put aside thoughts that may question the role of the Church in the past and that have led the present to question its future.

Thaiorénióhté Dan David is a Bear Clan Mohawk based in Kanehsatake near Montreal. He is an award-winning journalist and writer with compassion for lost causes and people without hope. His philosophy is “every once in a while, turn left to get lost and find yourself again”.

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