British Columbia

Pope's historic apology for residential school abuses draws mixed reaction in B.C.

Monday was an emotional day for many residential school survivors in B.C., as the Pope apologized on behalf of the Catholic Church for the abuse they had to endure.

For some it was a long-awaited opportunity to heal, for others it was underwhelming

Attendees to an outdoor mass presided over by Pope Francis line up outside Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on July 26, 2022. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Monday was an emotional day for many residential school survivors in B.C., as the Pope apologized on behalf of the Catholic Church for the abuse they had to endure.

For some, the gesture was a long-awaited opportunity for healing. But others told CBC News they were left underwhelmed by the religious leader's words.

John Jones, who was forced to attend a residential school in Port Alberni, watched the live broadcast of the Pope's apology in Edmonton on Monday from a Vancouver community centre surrounded by loved ones and fellow survivors.

As a victim of violence, he said the pontiff's words didn't mean much to him, even though they did trigger haunting memories.

"Making just a public appearance in one place doesn't cut it [the pontiff has more visits scheduled in Quebec and Iqaluit]," Jones of the Nanoose First Nation told CBC News. "The sexual abuse impacted a lot. The physical abuse impacted me a lot."

Jones was among thousands across the country watching the Pope from a distance while being reminded of the pain caused by the church's schools.

"Any time I seen my friends speaking their traditional language, they would ask us to form a circle, and we would witness them beat them up for speaking their language," he said.

Apology 'a lot more' sincere

Some noted the Pope's two apologies, the one in Edmonton and the first one in Rome in April, have failed to acknowledge the church's institutional role in the residential school system.

Residential school survivors smudge with sage as they watch a broadcast of the Pope's historic apology at a community centre in Vancouver on Monday. (CBC)

But to Angela White, the executive director of the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, the Pope's apology seemed to her to be "a lot more sincere and went a lot further" than the previous one in Vatican City.

She says she hopes to see his words of self-described "penitence" translated into meaningful action.

"It draws up a lot of energy and emotions that a lot of people really don't know that they're carrying," the Snuneymuxw First Nation member from Vancouver Island said. "Let's start ensuring that we heal our people so that we can hold onto and grasp our culture and language and bring that back to life."

For Chief Robert Joseph, with Reconciliation Canada, the lack of an action plan to repair the harms of residential schools in the Pope's apology was notable and disappointing.

"The Pope would have been a lot more forceful if he said we have a plan to implement reconciliation," said Joseph, the hereditary chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation.

He said it was the hope of many in the Indigenous community that the Pontiff would rescind the centuries-old policy known as the Doctrine of Discovery, which gave the Catholic Church's blessing to proselytization and the acquisition of Indigenous lands in North America.

Nor did the Pope agree to demands to release church-held records from the schools.

Working together

Deacon Greg Barcelon, with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver's Filipino ministry, said Monday's apology was a step in the right direction. 

Barcelon is in Alberta for the Pope's tour.

The Pope has called the visit a "pilgrimage of penance," saying he hopes it will help heal the wrongs done to Indigenous people in Canada by the Roman Catholic Church.

"Penitential in the sense that this is very deliberate, second that it is contrite, sorrowful and third, that it is something that is going to be ongoing," Barcelon told CBC's The Early Edition.

"The pilgrimage is indicative of a journey."

The Pope's week-long visit will not include a stop in B.C., with his team citing health limitations. But he will be visiting Quebec and Iqaluit later this week.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

Mental health counselling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at

With files from Jon Hernandez and The Early Edition