The Pope has come to Canada and made an apology to residential school survivors, but 'left a deep hole' in acknowledging the Church’s role by blaming individual members of the Church, says the former TRC chair.
The Call to Action:
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 the Catholic-run residential schools. We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.
In July 2022, Pope Francis spoke at Maskwacis, Alta., as part of his visit to Canada.
He said he was “deeply sorry” for “the ways in which, regrettably, many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the Indigenous peoples.”
“I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the ways in which many members of the Church and of religious communities co-operated, not least through their indifference, in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of that time, which culminated in the system of residential schools,” he said.
“Although Christian charity was not absent, and there were many outstanding instances of devotion and care for children, the overall effects of the policies linked to the residential schools were catastrophic.
“I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples.”
In a statement the following day, former Truth and Reconciliation chair Murray Sinclair recognized the importance of the Pope’s apology to survivors, their families, and communities.
“For many survivors, I know that hearing the words of contrition from the Pope was, and is, an important factor in their personal recoveries and growth,” he wrote.
He continued that the goal of Call to Action 58 was to “have survivors hear first-hand not only remorse, but an acceptance of responsibility for what they were put through at the hands of the Church and other institutions.
“Despite this historic apology, the Holy Father’s statement has left a deep hole in the acknowledgement of the full role of the Church in the residential school system, by placing blame on individual members of the Church. It is important to underscore that the Church was not just an agent of the state, nor simply a participant in government policy, but was a lead co-author of the darkest chapters in the history of this land.
“Catholic leaders not only enabled the Government of Canada, but pushed it even further in its work to commit cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples. In many instances, it was not just a collaboration, but an instigation. There are clear examples in our history where the Church called for the Government of Canada to be more aggressive and bold in its work to destroy Indigenous culture, traditional practices and beliefs.
“It was more than the work of a few bad actors — this was a concerted institutional effort to remove children from their families and cultures, all in the name of Christian supremacy.”
On April 1, 2022, Pope Francis apologized for the conduct of some members of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada’s residential school system, following a week of talks with First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegations.
“I also feel shame ... sorrow and shame for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you, and the abuses you suffered and the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values,” he said at the Vatican.
“For the deplorable conduct of these members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God’s forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart, I am very sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon.”
In September 2021, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) issued a public apology to Indigenous people in Canada for the suffering experienced at residential schools. The CCCB also pledged to give $30 million to help support survivors of the residential school system over five years.
In March 2018, the Vatican said Pope Francis would not issue an apology to survivors, their families and communities.
According to a letter released by Bishop Lionel Gendron, president of the CCCB, “The Holy Father is aware of the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which he takes seriously. 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.”
This is despite the fact that in December 2016, the Vatican’s Ambassador to Canada said reconciliation between the Catholic Church and Indigenous Peoples was a top priority, and that he would make every effort to travel to Saskatchewan and deliver an apology.
In May 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Pope Francis and asked for an apology on behalf of residential school survivors. The Vatican later issued a statement saying Pope Francis would consider the request.
Saskatchewan Tribal Council Chief Felix Thomas and Regina Archdiocese Archbishop Don Bolen had been working to bring Pope Francis to Wanuskewin Heritage Park, near Saskatoon, for the apology.
In May 2018, MPs backed a motion by a vote of 269 to 10 to invite Pope Francis to Canada so that he can apologize in person for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the Indian residential school system.