Washington: Pope Francis apologized on Friday for the Catholic Church’s abuse of indigenous children in Canada’s residential school system, bowing to decades of pressure from the country’s native peoples.
“I also feel shame … sorrow and shame for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you, and the abuses you suffered and the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values,” the Pope told a delegation of First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegates at the end of a week of meetings at the Vatican.
“For the deplorable conduct of these members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God’s forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart, I am very sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon,” he added.
Delegations had for decades demanded an apology from the Catholic Church for a range of widespread abuse, physical, sexual and psychological. Between the late 1880s and 1990s, the Canadian government operated government-funded, primarily Church-run, compulsory boarding schools that a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission described as a system of cultural genocide.
The Catholic Church operated almost three quarters of the schools. An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to these residential facilities. The last school is said to have closed in 1996.
Children were punished for practicing their traditions or for speaking their languages. Survivors say, and the Pope acknowledged, that inter-generational trauma remains.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report identified thousands of children who died at the schools, from illness and disease, suicide, malnourishment or while trying to escape.
An untold number were buried in unmarked graves to save money and often their families were never notified. This is the first formal apology from a pope on this issue. Pope Benedict XVI, Francis’s predecessor, did not do so, despite being pressured by indigenous survivors and their families.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described Pope Francis’s apology as a step forward in acknowledging “the truth of our past” and said he looks forward to the pontiff coming to Canada to do it in person.