Schools largely run by Catholic church took 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children away from families and force them to convert
Pope Francis will not apologize to survivors of Canada’s Indian residential schools for the role the Roman Catholic church played in operating the institutions or the abuses suffered there.
Some 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were taken from their familiesover much of the last century and put in the schools, where they were forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages. Many were beaten and verbally and sexually abused, and up to 6,000 are said to have died. Almost two-thirds of the 130 schools were run by the Catholic church.
Bishop Lionel Gendron, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said on Wednesday in a letter to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada that Francis has not shied away from acknowledging injustices faced by indigenous peoples around the world, but that he cannot personally issue an apology for residential schools in Canada.
“The Catholic Bishops of Canada have been in dialogue with the Pope and the Holy See concerning the legacy of suffering you have experienced,” Gendron wrote.
“After carefully considering the request and extensive dialogue with the bishops of Canada, he felt that he could not personally respond.”
A papal apology was one of the 94 recommendations from a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada, and the prime minister, Justin Trudeau, had also asked the pope to apologize during a visit to the Vatican last year.
“Obviously I am disappointed with the Catholic church’s decision,” Trudeau said. “We know that taking responsibility for past mistakes and asking forgiveness is something that is core to our values as Canadians.”
His minister of Crown-indigenous relations, Carolyn Bennett, went further, saying: “Sorrow is not enough.”
“One has to take responsibility for the harm that was done, not only to the children that were taken but for the families left behind and what happened to them,” she said.
Gendron says the pope has not ruled out a visit to Canada and a meeting with indigenous peoples, but in the meantime is encouraging Canadian bishops to continue working with indigenous peoples on reconciliation issues and projects that help with healing.
The Assembly of First Nations national chief, Perry Bellegarde, said in a statement he had written to Francis urging him to come to Canada and meet indigenous peoples.
“Hearing an apology directly from Pope Francis would be an important act of healing and reconciliation,” Bellegarde said.