Now Or Never

'You have to take ownership': Residential school survivor demands the Pope apologize

Evelyn Korkmaz wants the Pope to apologize for the sexual abuse she endured while she was a young student at a Roman Catholic run residential school.

Evelyn Korkmaz attended St. Anne's residential school in Fort Albany, Ont.

Evelyn Korkmaz attended St. Anne’s Indian Residential School between 1969 and 1972. (Submitted by Evelyn Korkmaz; Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

Content warning: this story contains details about the abuse of a child

From 1969 to 1972, Evelyn Korkmaz and her younger sister attended St. Anne's residential school in Fort Albany, Ont. 

"The community was run by the Roman Catholic Church," she said. "The school was run by the church. The hospital was run by the church. Everything was controlled by the church." 

During her four years at St. Anne's, Korkmaz was sexually assaulted by fellow students, beginning at the age of ten.

"I was grabbed and taken into the bush," she recalled. "I had what they call an out-of-body experience. I rose from my body and I looked down at this girl that was fighting these boys."

"I zoomed back into my body and continued to fight."

Seeking an apology from the Roman Catholic Church

Fifty years after her first year in residential school, Korkmaz has joined a global project called Ending Clergy Abuse. This February, she and other survivors were in Rome, attending the first-ever summit on sexual abuse hosted by the Catholic Church.


I blamed these boys for most of my life, until I realized their abuse came from the clergy abuse that they suffered.- Evelyn Korkmaz

Korkmaz wants guilty clergy to be held accountable for the damage they may have inflicted. 

"It affects you all your life," she explained. "It affects your relationships with people. You have trust issues. Your whole life changes at that moment. It's something you carry to your grave."

St. Anne's Residential School in Fort Albany, Ont. in the 1940s. (Algoma University/Edmund Metatawabin Collection)

Fighting for children around the world

After her first incident of abuse, Korkmaz developed a speech impediment. The stutter comes and goes, depending on triggers and stress. 

Before all this happened, I remember myself laughing, riding my bicycle, skipping stones in the water, just being a child, the way a child should be.- Evelyn Korkmaz

When she spoke in Rome, she had a message for Pope Francis. 

"I asked Pope Francis, through the media, to come to Canada and apologize on their behalf for the abuse that the Catholic people inflicted on my people."

"An apology to me means you are taking ownership of the wrongs that you have done," she stated.

"You have to take ownership of the horrific abuses you inflicted on people."

What if there is no apology?

"If he doesn't apologize, fine. We all know his institute is guilty." she continued.

"What I really want is for the archives to open. To show how widespread this abuse is all over the world. And for these people to be removed so they will not abuse again." 

There should be no special rules for anybody when it comes to destroying a child's life.- Evelyn Korkmaz

Korkmaz ended her statement in Rome with a plea to others.

"People need to step forward and tell their stories," she urged.

Watch the full Ending Clergy Abuse press conference in Rome:

This originally aired in March, 2019.