Pope Francis, during the press conference he offered on his plane on Friday, July 29.

The Vatican and its ‘diplomacy of forgiveness’

Pope Francis traveled to Canada last Monday, where he completed his penitential pilgrimage to ask forgiveness “for the evil that so many Christians did to the indigenous people” in that country. And, in particular, by the cooperation and indifference of “many members of the Church.”

It is estimated that from the late 19th century to the 1990s, some 150,000 indigenous children were separated from their families and transferred to boarding schools run by Christian religious orders in an attempt to assimilate them into the dominant culture.

Pope Francis, during the press conference he offered on his plane on Friday, July 29.



The plan was not part of any hidden agenda. This assimilationist policy was especially active after the promulgation of the Indian Act of 1867, which gave the Canadian Executive the power to legislate on the Indians and their lands with the aim of reaching “a higher degree of civilization”.

In 1920, the poet and official of the Department of Indian Affairs Duncan Campbell-Scott he wrote along the same lines: “Our aim is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada who has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is not an Indian question, nor an Indian department.”

Through the administration of the network of residential schools, the Christian communities played a determining role. And the result was, in the pontiff’s words, “devastating.” Alcoholism, drug addiction, suicide or rootlessness were some of the traumas that indigenous communities in the country still face today.

[El papa pide perdón por el “sufrimiento” que los cristianos infligieron a los pueblos indígenas]

Francisco’s words were blunt: “I would like to repeat with shame and clarity: I humbly ask forgiveness for the evil that so many Christians committed against indigenous peoples.” The pope also spoke of the “deep feeling of pain and remorse that I have felt in recent months.”

He did so in front of members of the original peoples, but also of political authorities of the Government headed by Justin Trudeauwith whom he later had a personal meeting.

“For 450 years, no pope accepted that he or any of his predecessors had been wrong”

That is why Francisco’s gesture is not only an act of contrition or a manifestation of personal piety, and falls within the scope of what some have dubbed forgiveness diplomacy, a trend that has been gaining importance since the beginning of the 21st century.

In international relations (and the Vatican has been a major player on the global scene for centuries) forgiveness is fundamentally a political act of reparation aimed at regaining the trust of the interlocutor. Sincere repentance for mistakes made is sometimes a necessary step to rebuild a future of rapprochement and mutual benefit.

In his meeting with Trudeau, Francis expressed his desire to “renew the relationship between the Church and the indigenous peoples of Canada.” Would this be possible without forgiveness? Probably not. as he pointed Phil Fontaineformer national head of the Assembly of First Nations on account of the pontiff’s visit, forgiveness “is not the end of the story, only the beginning.”

Some studies have analyzed the presence of forgiveness in international relations, and the results are surprising. Since the end of World War II, there have been 346 political apologies for human rights violations, and 72% have been made since the beginning of our century.

For the Vatican, too, the attitude is new. in his book My faultthe vaticanologist Luigi Accattoli points out that in the 19th century, the pope Gregory XVI even theorized about the inadmissibility of the repentance of the Church, and that since Hadrian VI until Paul VI no pope accepted that he or any of his predecessors had been wrong. “That is,” he adds, “the popes’ resistance to self-criticism lasted 450 years.”

“Francis’ diplomacy has shown a special interest in approaching all existential peripheries”

The new century brought changes in this regard. In 2000, the German president Johannes Rau apologized to the Israeli parliament for the German responsibility in the extermination of six million Jews during the Third Reich.

Others have done it ambiguously. In 2014, Erdoğan he apologized to the descendants of the Armenians murdered under the Ottoman Empire, but at no time did he utter the word “genocide”.

In total, Japan is the country that has joined the diplomacy of forgiveness for the abuses committed during its imperial period the most times.

Pope John Paul II He apologized on more than 90 occasions for the mistakes made by the Church in the past.

Today, no one is unaware that in many of the conflicts of recent decades, group identity is a determining factor. Current and future relationships between these groups are conditioned by feelings or memories of past experiences.

For this reason, beyond its spiritual dimension, public acknowledgment of the mistakes made is a condition for the possibility of reestablishing relations. Especially when they involve communities that have lived through painful and silenced experiences.

The latter are a priority for Francisco’s diplomacy, which has shown a special interest in approaching all the “existential peripheries”.

As expected, the visit of Pope Francis did not arouse sympathy among his leading critics, for whom his route of forgiveness constitutes a form of populism, submission or a futile attempt to curry favor with their opponents.

They are wrong. Francis knows that in today’s world forgiveness is, in addition to a Christian virtue, a valuable diplomatic tool.

*** Diego Martínez is a lawyer and journalist.

Source: Elespanol

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