On Sunday morning, Pope Francis expressed his “pain” over the news of the discovery of the remains of 215 indigenous minors at a boarding school in the country. The announcement comes after the Canadian Prime Minister called on the Catholic Church to take responsibility for the events.
As part of his weekly blessing in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said he felt pain at “the news coming from Canada of the disturbing discovery of the remains”. In addition, he added, “I join the Canadian bishops and the entire Catholic Church in Canada in expressing my closeness to the Canadian people traumatized by the shocking news.”
These difficult times are a strong call for all to move away from the colonizing model and move side by side in dialogue, in mutual respect and in recognition of the rights and cultural values of all daughters and sons of Canada.
– Pope Francis June 6, 2021
However, he did not formally apologize for the Catholic Church being directly involved. The Kamloops Indian Residential School, where the remains were found, was the largest such facility in Canada and was run by the institution between 1890 and 1969.
A few days earlier, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had addressed the Pope directly, asking him to “act” and urging him to take responsibility.
“As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed with the position the Catholic Church has taken now and in recent years,” Trudeau said. On the other hand, he referred to the visit he made to the Vatican several years ago, where he asked the Pope to go further “in apologizing, asking for forgiveness, restitution and making these documents available.”
On the other hand, when the Pope’s statements were made public, some Indigenous leaders in Canada expressed their dismay. “We are all hurt and saddened. Who isn’t? This is a global farce,” Bobby Cameron, head of the Saskatchewan Federation of Sovereign Indian Nations, told Reuters.
Many of Kamloops’ indigenous leaders and survivors agreed that what the Pope said is not enough and they expect a formal apology. “The Pope won’t say, ‘You know what? I’ve heard that there were (thousands) of physical and sexual abuse in those residential schools run by our church.’ He won’t say that,” said Saa Hiil Thut, one of the survivors.
What is the Church held responsible for?
For more than a hundred years, up to 1970, 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend schools, such as the one in Kamloops, which were funded by the state, and which sought to integrate them into Canadian society.
In these places, children were forced to give up their beliefs and languages and replace them with the Christian faith and official languages such as English and French. The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse has taken place in these schools.
In the process, many of the children, mainly Intuit and Métis, were buried in unmarked graves.
As a result of these events, in 2008, the Canadian government decided to create an organization called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which sought testimony about Indigenous internees and made it really clear what was happening in those places.
In the report published by the Commission, it stated that a cultural genocide had been committed. They also found that more than 4,100 children died while attending those schools. However, it appears that the 215 bodies found are not included in the count.
Likewise, the body made 94 recommendations, including an apology from the Pope. But despite the new discoveries, this has not been formally done.
The Pope and the Apologies to Indigenous Communities
Although the Pope has not offered a direct apology, it is not the first time the Pope has referred to the abuses the Church is committing against indigenous communities in several countries.
During his 2015 visit to Bolivia, he even directly apologized to the communities for “many grave sins[that]were committed in the name of God against the indigenous peoples of America”.
If this is the case, both the Canadian government and indigenous groups are still waiting. But for now, there is no date for a papal visit to the community.
With Reuters and AP