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A field test of equivocation theory: Apologies by Canadian churches to indigenous people
Unformatted Document Text:  21 apology, then the immunity provided in settlement conferences might provide a possible solution. Admissions in a pre-trial settlement conference are privileged and cannot be introduced if a trial ensues. Therefore, the offender could apologize fully; if the victim accepted this, they could then work on a settlement. If the victim did not accept the apology, they would go to trial with no liability admitted by the apologizer, whose institutional responsibilities would not be compromised. Another, related issue that leads to positive recommendations concerns a question frequently asked about this analysis: Why should individuals who are presently part of the churches be guilty of offences they did not commit, indeed, which they abhor? First, the issue is not one of guilt but of responsibility. We are sometimes responsible for actions we were not personally guilty of (e.g., our employee’s or our children’s actions). Second, each church, as a institution, has an enduring group identity; the roots of this collective identity are theological, historical, legal, and social. Individuals who are part of a church can appropriately point with pride at the actions or qualities of past or present clergy or members, which bring credit on their church. However, the group and its members cannot logically invoke a collective identity only for the positive actions of other members, while disowning their offences. As the United 1998 apology pointed out, to claim one’s history is to claim all of it. This leads to the third and most specific issue of what churches and their members can accurately take responsibility for. In the most extreme example, it is not reasonable that they should say “Our church sexually abused children.” No church, as an institution, could sexually abuse a child; only individual priests and employees could do so, presumably secretly.

Authors: Bavelas, Janet.
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apology, then the immunity provided in settlement conferences might provide a possible
solution. Admissions in a pre-trial settlement conference are privileged and cannot be
introduced if a trial ensues. Therefore, the offender could apologize fully; if the victim
accepted this, they could then work on a settlement. If the victim did not accept the
apology, they would go to trial with no liability admitted by the apologizer, whose
institutional responsibilities would not be compromised.
Another, related issue that leads to positive recommendations concerns a
question frequently asked about this analysis: Why should individuals who are
presently part of the churches be guilty of offences they did not commit, indeed, which
they abhor? First, the issue is not one of guilt but of responsibility. We are sometimes
responsible for actions we were not personally guilty of (e.g., our employee’s or our
children’s actions). Second, each church, as a institution, has an enduring group
identity; the roots of this collective identity are theological, historical, legal, and social.
Individuals who are part of a church can appropriately point with pride at the actions or
qualities of past or present clergy or members, which bring credit on their church.
However, the group and its members cannot logically invoke a collective identity only for
the positive actions of other members, while disowning their offences. As the United
1998 apology pointed out, to claim one’s history is to claim all of it. This leads to the
third and most specific issue of what churches and their members can accurately take
responsibility for. In the most extreme example, it is not reasonable that they should
say “Our church sexually abused children.” No church, as an institution, could sexually
abuse a child; only individual priests and employees could do so, presumably secretly.


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