Reader's View: Without atonement, Pope’s apologies ring hollow

I believe that aligned with penance and culpability is atonement, a set of actions to make up for the sin.

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As follow-up to the News Tribune’s coverage of the "Pope Penance Tour" (including the July 28 article, “Pope’s apology falls short for some survivors”), I wish to remind readers of the shame of Native residential schools in the U.S. The individual and long-term cultural damage inflicted by these schools is incomprehensible. Those who survived returned to their communities with varying degrees of damage and embedded violence and a need to dull psychic pain — not unlike classic symptoms of PTSD. (As an example, see the May 12 testimony of Mathew War Bonnet before the House Subcommittees for Indigenous Peoples of the United States of America.)

I became more deeply aware of this issue through personal conversations with a friend who resides on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Rodney shared the experiences of his grandparents, father, and other family members who were all survivors. His general reaction, and my own, is that the damage done to individuals will reverberate through their communities for generations.

As to the Pope’s visit, Rodney questioned how an apology can repair the ongoing systemic damage to a culture. I believe that aligned with penance and culpability is atonement, a set of actions to make up for the sin.

As an article in the News Tribune suggested (“Anguished Cree anthem caps emotional Pope apology in Canada,” July 26), rescinding the papal bulls of the 15 century has been suggested as atonement. But what about the commitment of something tangible such as money or resources to address long-term community issues? Without a tangible atonement plan, apologies seem hollow and self-serving.

Hopefully, our country can come up with a better atonement plan than, “Sorry.”


James A. Holter


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