The Catholic Church has spent nearly $ 300 million on buildings since pledging $ 25 million to residential school survivors in 2005

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DISCLAIMER: This story contains distressing details

Catholic officials said in 2015 they could only raise a total of $ 3.9 million for residential school survivors, but efforts for Catholic cathedrals and other buildings across Canada reached nearly $ 300 million since November 2005, according to data collected by CBC News.

The actual number may be higher. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops this week declined a request by CBC News to seek the information from its member bishops. The figure of $ 292 million is the result of research of each diocese’s websites and other public sources.

These include a $ 128 million renovation of St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica in Toronto. The 2016 gala opening – with a fanfare – came a year after Canadian church groups went to court to say there was no more money to raise funds for survivors.

Critics say the numbers call into question the church’s legal claim that it has done “its best” to help survivors.

Since the signing of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2005, Canadian Catholic dioceses have spent or raised $ 292 million on cathedrals and other religious buildings, according to a search of public sources by CBC News. Critics say the financial commitment to residential school survivors has been largely forgotten. (CBC Graphics)

‘Keep your promise’

“They broke their promise. You can’t just say, ‘Oh, we tried. It’s a shame, ”said Michael Starr, Chief of the Star Blanket Cree Nation.

“There’s a lot of hate, a lot of anger out there. The church has to work with us. It has to be tangible. Keep your promise.”

Following the discovery of more than 1,000 anonymous graves in Kamloops, British Columbia, Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan and elsewhere in Canada, Starr, the survivors and others wanted the church to revive its efforts.

Starr applauded the bishops of Saskatchewan for recently agreeing to do just that. But he said the survivors had yet to see anything concrete. Starr also called on all of Canada’s bishops to join the effort.

“You know, with survivors being placed at the end of that priority list, you know, I don’t think that’s fair. They should go first priority and make sure we’re funded according to their promise,” Starr said.

First Nations leaders, such as Chief Michael Starr of the Star Blanket Cree Nation, say helping residential school survivors must be the top priority of the Catholic Church. (CBC / Tyler Pidlubny)

The Diocese of Toronto refused to participate in the 2005 settlement

The Archdiocese of Toronto and all other Catholic groups say they will join a renewed fundraising campaign to launch this fall. Survivors say this is a belated but welcome acknowledgment of responsibility.

Starr, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations leader Bobby Cameron, and others say they’ve had 15 years to do what’s right – since the 2005 residential school settlement – so they don’t know why authorities are just starting to think about it again now.

They said all current Catholic fundraisers for buildings must be suspended while money is raised for survivors. This includes the Diocese of Regina’s $ 17 million campaign to renovate its Cathedral of the Holy Rosary.

Officials from the Saskatoon and Regina Dioceses declined to give a timeframe or target amount for survivor fundraising efforts in the province, but a Regina Diocese official said more details will be available soon, including understood the fate of other ongoing fundraising campaigns.

In the 2005 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the Catholic Church first agreed to make a lump sum payment of $ 29 million in cash, and paid most of that amount. He also agreed to provide $ 25 million in “in-kind services”. Officials say this has been accomplished, although the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has refused to provide a list of such services to CBC News. Some critics have also questioned why the perpetrator was allowed to provide in-kind services to victims.

The Catholic Church’s third pledge was to do its best to raise $ 25 million for survivors.

After a decade, more than $ 21 million of this fundraising pledge has remained unpaid. All of the other churches involved in the settlement – United, Anglican and Presbyterian – paid their full shares without incident.

The church went to court and underlined the “best efforts” clause, saying it had done its best. On July 16, 2015, the judge agreed and absolved the church of its legal obligation.

The Archdiocese of Toronto did not have a residential school on its territory and refused to participate in the 2005 settlement agreement and fundraising. Survivors and First Nations leaders say all Canadian Catholic groups should have participated, just as they did in the United, Anglican and Presbyterian churches.


Support is available for anyone affected by their residential school experience and for those triggered by the latest reports.

A National Residential Schools Crisis Line has been set up to provide support to former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.


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