Pope Francis apologizes for ‘deplorable’ conduct in Roman Catholic schools in Canada

Pope Francis has apologized to Indigenous delegates for the conduct of some members of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada’s residential school system.

A week of separate private meetings between Pope Francis and First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegates included discussions on the role of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada’s residential school system and its lasting legacy. The week ended with a final, public meeting at the Vatican on Friday.

“For the deplorable conduct of these members of the Catholic Church, I ask God’s forgiveness and I want to tell you with all my heart, I am truly sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your forgiveness,” Francis said.

“I also feel shame…grief and shame for the role that a number of Catholics, especially those with educational responsibilities, have had in all of these things that have hurt you, and the abuses that you have suffered and the lack of respect for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values.”

Between the late 1800s and 1996, at least 150,000 Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their families and enrolled in residential schools. Although the facilities were set up by the Canadian government, more than 60% were operated by the Catholic Church.

Residential schools were part of a larger policy to assimilate Indigenous peoples into the mainstream Euro-Canadian culture. Many children in the school suffered physical, psychological and sexual abuse and were punished for practicing cultural traditions or speaking in native languages. At least 4,100 deaths have been documented and thousands of confirmed, unmarked graves Was found. From 2008 to 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada investigated the legacy of the residential school system and, in its landmark 2015 report, claimed that “[…] schools institutionalized child neglect and committed “cultural genocide”. One of the commission’s 94 calls to action included a call for a papal apology.

Different religious groups, Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008 and the RCMP in 2004 and 2014, have each issued apologies and acknowledged their role in the system. However, a year after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on the head of the Catholic Church to apologize for his involvement in the residential school system, the church released a letter saying the pope would not apologize.

The apology is just one of the demands Indigenous delegates have raised this week. During a private meeting, the head of the Inuit delegation asked Pope Francis to personally intervene in the case of an Oblate priest facing a Canada-wide arrest warrant. The Oblate priest, now residing in France, is accused of sexually abusing children in Nunavut. The First Nations delegates have[…] also urged the Pope to revoke centuries-old papal decrees used to justify the seizure of Indigenous lands in the Americas by colonial powers.

The leader of the Assembly of First Nations delegation, Chief Gerald, told reporters after Friday’s speech:

This is a historic first step. However, only a first step. The next step is for the Holy Father to apologize to our family at their home. We seek to hear his words. They are also looking for words of apology at home.”

Pope Francis has said he hopes to visit Canada “in the days” around Saint Anne’s feast day, which falls on July 26.

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