'When you do wrong, you apologize': Indigenous leaders disappointed with Pope Francis

Saskatchewan church and Indigenous leaders are disappointed Pope Francis has decided not to apologize for the church's role in residential schools.

Residential school survivor saddened Pope won't come to Canada to issue apology

Pope Francis says he will not be apologizing for the church's role in Canada's residential schools. (Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

A residential school survivor says he's disgusted Pope Francis has decided not to apologize for the Catholic Church's role in the schools.

"They haven't changed their position from day one. And they never will. The only thing (the Church) could say is sorry he got caught, that's all," said Ted Quewezance, who was abused while attending St. Phillip's residential school near Kamsack.

They know they did wrong.- Ted Quewezance, Residential school survivor

The Pope's decision was announced this week in an open letter "to the Indigenous peoples of Canada" by Bishop Lionel Gendron, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The call for an apology on Canadian soil was one of the 94 calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also made the request during a visit last year to the Vatican.

"The Holy Father is aware of the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which he takes seriously," stated the letter. "As far as Call to Action #58 is concerned, after carefully considering the request and extensive dialogue with the Bishops of Canada, he felt that he could not personally respond."

According to the letter, the Pope encouraged bishops to continue working with Indigenous elders and others and to "collaborate on concrete projects" toward reconciliation.

Apology should have been simple: survivor

Quewezance, one of the first survivors to speak openly about the abuses he faced, said the apology should have been a simple matter.

"They know they did wrong. When you do wrong, you apologize," he said.

Former Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Felix Thomas, Regina Archdiocese Archbishop Don Bolen and others have been working for months to bring the Pope to Wanuskewin Heritage Park near Saskatoon for the apology.

Both said Wednesday they were disappointed.

"Most First Nations people that went to residential schools should be disappointed. It was a dark time in history. We were confident he would come here," said Thomas, who now sits on the Wanuskewin board.

Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand is disappointed Pope Francis will not be coming to apologize for the church's role in residential schools. (Omayra Issa)

Current STC Chief Mark Arcand said residential schools damaged the students irreparably, but that the legacy continues. He said the high rates of illness, incarceration and other maladies in Indigenous people can be traced in part to residential schools.

Pope apologized for wrongs in Ireland, Peru

Arcand noted the Pope has apologized to victims of abuse and colonization in Peru and Ireland.

"Why are First Nations people not allowed to get the same thing. We're looking for the same respect," Arcand said.

"We hope you reconsider. The door is open. You're always welcome to Treaty Six territory."

In 1991, Canadian Catholic Bishops issued an apology, saying, "We are sorry and deeply regret the pain, suffering and alienation that so many experienced" at the residential schools. The TRC call to action had called for the pope to make a public apology on Canadian soil.

Bolen said he and others in the Catholic Church will continue to reach out to the Indigenous community and make amends for the damage caused.

Reconciliation still church's top priority: Bishop

Archbishop Don Bolen says solidarity with Indigenous peoples is vital going forward. (Radio-Canada/CBC)

"We're not shying away from that here. I would say that our work with Indigenous people is our number one pastoral priority in the church here," Bolen said.

Saskatoon Diocese Bishop Mark Hagemoen agreed.

"I too regret that Pope Francis is not coming at this time," Hagemoen said in a written statement.

"Our Indigenous communities are highlighting the need for concrete actions and positive relationships to accompany the many words and expressions of commitment."

The Catholic Church ran more of Canada's residential schools than any other church. More than 150,000 students attended the schools, which first opened in the 1870s, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Saskatchewan had more students and more schools per capita than any other province.


Jason Warick


Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.