Pope Francis's apology not good enough, Sask. residential school survivors, elders say

Some Saskatchewan residential school survivors say Pope Francis's apology is not good enough.

The whole Roman Catholic Church was responsible, they say, not a few bad apples

Residential school survivors Barb and Frank Badger say Pope Francis's apology to a delegation at the Vatican was disappointing for several reasons, including the lack of action on documents, compensation and other issues. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Residential school survivors Frank and Barb Badger joked and laughed with a group of new graduates at Saskatoon's White Buffalo Youth Lodge Friday afternoon.

They were asked to say the opening prayers for the 25 students who had passed a six-week wellness and parenting course. The Badgers said it's wonderful to attend these celebrations.

But Frank Badger says he wasn't celebrating earlier in the day when he heard about the speech Pope Francis's made in Rome.

In a room full of Canadian survivors and church officials at the Vatican, Francis apologized for the actions of some church officials in the residential school system.

Badger and others interviewed Friday said the Pope was wrong to dismiss all of their pain as the fault of a few bad apples.

The Badgers (seated) are surrounded by graduates of a parenting and wellness program Friday at Saskatoon's White Buffalo Youth Lodge. He says the Catholic Church must make good on its compensation promises to survivors to fund programs like this. (Jason Warick/CBC)

"That's not right. It was the [Roman Catholic] Church. It was the whole church," said Badger, who endured a host of deprivations and abuse as a student at St. Michael's Indian Residential School.

The authors of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report agreed.

In their dozens of Calls to Action, issued in 2015, one of them was directed at the Pope. It called for an apology on Canadian soil by the end of 2016, and it was clearly blamed the Catholic Church as a whole, not individuals.

"We call upon the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church's role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools," the Call to Action said.

Badger, former Little Pine First Nation chief Wayne Semaganis and others say there was another big problem with the Pope's speech: It's not so much what he said, but what he omitted.

Pope Francis did not mention any of the other issues survivors have raised, including:

  • Keeping promises to disclose documents.
  • Repatriating Indigenous art and religious items.
  • Repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery, which used to justify colonialism.
  • Extraditing and prosecuting of abuser priests.
  • Paying full compensation. By some accounts, the Catholic Church still owes survivors more than $60 million, a number disputed by church officials.

Frank Badger says survivors don't want the money, but it's desperately needed to support future generations with language and cultural revival, with family supports, and with education programs such as those at the White Buffalo Youth Lodge.

Semaganis called the speech a "sort of apology." He and the Badgers hope the attention and pressure generated by the Vatican delegation's visit will lead to action, but they say they haven't seen any evidence of that yet.

Last fall, Canadian bishops promised to raise $30 million over the next five years. CBC News asked the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops for a national total raised so far, but none was available. However, they say work is well underway. Several dioceses have already begun to raise funds and a national Indigenous-led board will oversee the campaign.