Pope Francis needs to 'walk the walk' with residential schools apology: MP

An NDP MP is calling on Pope Francis to respond to a request he visit Canada and apologize to residential school survivors with the same urgency he displayed following last week's release of findings detailing widespread, decades-long sexual abuse of children by priests in Pennsylvania.

Pope's swift response to U.S. sex abuse findings contrasts with long wait for apology requested by TRC

Pope Francis arrives to lead the general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on May 30. (Max Rossi/Reuters)

An NDP MP is calling on Pope Francis to respond to a request he visit Canada and apologize to residential school survivors with the same urgency he displayed following last week's release of findings detailing widespread, decades-long sexual abuse of children by priests in Pennsylvania.

Charlie Angus, MP for Timmins-James Bay, wrote to the Vatican's ambassador to Canada Tuesday saying the Roman Catholic Church's failure to adequately respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's findings "continues to damage" the relationship between the institution, believers and Indigenous Peoples.

"Given the clear position taken by Pope Francis in his recent letter to the faithful ... it is incumbent upon the Church to respond with equal clarity to the Parliament of Canada and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)," wrote Angus in his letter to Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, the Apostolic Nuncio to Canada.

Pennsylvania case

Pope Francis issued a letter Monday addressed to the Church's 1.2 billion followers pledging an end to cover-ups of sexual abuse. The letter was in response to findings released last week by a Pennsylvania grand jury that 301 priests in the state sexually abused minors over the past 70 years.

Pope Francis is visiting Ireland this week in hopes it will lead to "reconciliation" in a country where clerical sexual abuse has also damaged the Roman Catholic Church, the Irish Times reported. The Times said the Pope would be meeting victims of sexual abuse during his time in the country.

Pope Francis earlier this year also criticized the Chilean Roman Catholic Church's "culture of abuse and cover up" of sexual crimes which led to the resignation of the country's bishops.

NDP MP Charlie Angus wrote to the Vatican's ambassador to Canada on Tuesday. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

However, the Vatican's response has been more muted to the findings in Canada by the TRC of widespread sexual, physical and psychological abuse suffered by Indigenous children who attended residential schools in Canada. Catholic groups ran 72 per cent of the institutions.

"You've got to walk the walk here," said Angus, in an interview.

"Where is the urgency three years after the report of the TRC has been released?"

No 'simple apology' yet for Indigenous children: TRC chair

Pope Benedict XVI issued an expression of regret in 2009 for the Catholic Church's role in residential schools during a Vatican meeting with First Nations leaders.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops suggested this year that Pope Francis would not be visiting Canada and offering an apology as requested by the TRC in its 94 calls to action.

In response, the House of Commons passed a motion calling on Pope Francis to visit Canada and apologize to residential school survivors.

"Less than 1,000 non-Indigenous children in Pennsylvania apparently are entitled to the Pope's personal request for forgiveness, but when given the chance, he declines to issue even a simple apology to the many thousand more Indigenous victims in Canada," wrote Sen. Murray Sinclair, former chair of the TRC, in a Facebook post Tuesday.

Sinclair's office said the senator was not available for an interview and that the post is all he would say on the matter for now.

During a June 29 reception at the Vatican embassy in Ottawa, Bonazzi said Pope Francis "is not against a gesture of reconciliation," suggesting perhaps an apology could be forthcoming, according to a report in The Catholic Register.

Angus attended the reception and heard Bonazzi's words. He said the Catholic Church in Canada is trying to deal with the issue, but it's clear the urgency is not the same.

"Why are we still moving along at such a slow rate?" said Angus.

The Vatican's embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a request for comment.


Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's investigative unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him

with files from the Associated Press