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Police called to incident at Edmonton church whose priest denied reports of unmarked graves

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EDMONTON -

An altercation occurred at Our Lady Queen of Poland Catholic Church in Edmonton Sunday morning as a group of people attempted to enter and listen to a public apology for remarks a priest previously made.

Taz Augustine, an Indigenous elder, told CTV News Edmonton that she was part of a group of six people who wanted to go and listen to the public apology that the Archdiocese of Edmonton was offering.

That apology comes in the wake of comments a priest from the Polish parish made regarding Indigenous communities and residential schools, and the Jewish community.

Rev. Marcin Mironiuk, a priest with the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), was placed on “indefinite administrative leave” from ministry within the Archdiocese of Edmonton after denying that there were unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools.

Mironiuk, who made the comments in Polish during a sermon in July, said the news of unmarked graves at residential school sites contained “lies” and “manipulation.”

The priest apologized for making the comments in a letter on Saturday and his provincial superior also offered an apology.

“I apologize to the Residential Schools Survivors and pledge to do better,” Mironiuk said in the letter. “I am sorry for any hurt I have caused.”

Augustine said she and a group of people wanted to hear the apologies read at the masses and had a demonstration outside the church.

“We started to walk inside, peacefully, with our signs, carrying our smudge and intended to sit and listen to this apology that they say they are doing every Sunday,” she said.

“What happened was, when we entered the doorway, I was in the lead,” she added. “When I walked in, five, six, men charged down the stairs and slammed me against the wall and then grabbed me. And when the other people were coming in, they were fighting with the other people.

“They had me by my arms and pushed me on back to turn me out of the church. They managed to get me out of the church.”

Augustine described feeling pain in her upper back and that her arm was bruised. She was brought to hospital to have her injuries assessed.

Edmonton police responded to the incident. CTV News reached out to police for comment.

When reached for comment, Our Lady Queen of Poland referred CTV News to the archdiocese.

The Archdiocese of Edmonton said they are aware of the incident.

“The situation is being handled and investigated by the Edmonton Police Service,” the statement read. “No further statements from the Archdiocese of Edmonton will be released at this time.”

Robert, a member of the congregation from Our Lady Queen of Poland, told CTV News that some people “walked in” and that they had “no problem with it.”

“Those people that are not from this parish, and they were peaceful, they walked in,” he said. “We had no problem with it.

“The ones that tried to force themselves in and were yelling and screaming out profanities, you know, that wasn’t right,” Robert added. “So, we stopped them at the door.”

According to him, the fault for residential schools lies with the Canadian government.

“These children were taken from their families by the Canadian government,” Robert said. “They were given to the Catholic Church and the Catholic Church was asked to take care of them but they hadn’t provided them with the funds necessary to take care of these children.

“So these children died of course from malnutrition, from disease, from whatever. No one is denying it. So, I just don’t understand why they are focusing their anger or hatred on us."

Robert did not offer an explanation as to how he believes underfunding was the cause of widespread physical and sexual abuse of children in residential schools, and thousands of those children being buried in unmarked graves without the knowledge or involvement of their families. 

Augustine said the incident today shows how much more work towards reconciliation needs to be done.

“Apologies are a dime and a dozen,” she said. “We want to see a change in action, in recognition of the genocide and acknowledgement of the crimes that they’ve committed, the Catholic Church, against the people.” 

If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here

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