DEVELOPMENT… The story will be updated as new information can be verified. Updated 4 times
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Friday issued a historic apology to Indigenous peoples for the “deplorable” abuses they suffered in Canada’s Catholic residential schools and said he hoped to travel to Canada in late July to deliver the apology in person to the survivors of the church. misguided missionary zeal.
Francis asked for forgiveness during an audience with dozens of members of Métis, Inuit and First Nations communities who came to Rome to demand a papal apology and a commitment from the Catholic Church to repair the damage. The Americas’ first pope has said he hopes to visit Canada around St. Anne’s Day, which falls on July 26.
More than 150,000 Indigenous children in Canada were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools from the 19th century until the 1970s in an effort to isolate them from the influence of their homes and cultures. The goal was to Christianize them and assimilate them into mainstream society, which previous Canadian governments considered superior.
The Canadian government has admitted physical and sexual abuse is rampant in schools, with students beaten for speaking their native language. This legacy of abuse and isolation from family has been cited by Indigenous leaders as a root cause of the epidemic rates of alcohol and drug addiction currently on Canadian reservations.
After hearing their stories all week, Francis told Indigenous groups that the colonial project tore children from their families, severing their roots, traditions and culture and causing intergenerational trauma that is still felt today. He said it was a “counter-witness” to the same gospel that the residential school system purported to uphold.
“For the deplorable conduct of these members of the Catholic Church, I ask forgiveness from the Lord,” Francis said. “And I want to tell you from the bottom of my heart that I am very saddened. And I join the Canadian bishops in apologizing.
The trip to Rome for Indigenous leaders, elders and survivors took years, but gained momentum last year after the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves outside some residential schools in Canada. The three groups met with Francis separately for several hours this week, telling him their stories, culminating in Friday’s hearing.
Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron said the Métis elder sitting next to her broke down in tears upon hearing what she said was a long overdue apology.
“The Pope’s words today were historic, that’s for sure. They were necessary and I deeply appreciate them,” Caron told reporters in St. Peter’s Square. “And I now look forward to the Pope’s visit to Canada, where he can offer these heartfelt words of apology directly to our survivors and their families, whose acceptance and healing ultimately matter most.”
First Nations leader Gerald Antoine echoed that sentiment, saying Francis acknowledged the cultural “genocide” that had been inflicted on Indigenous peoples.
“Today is a day that we have been waiting for a long time. And certainly one that will be elevated in our history,” he said. “It is a historic first step, however, only a first step.”
He and other delegates said the church had much more to do on the road to reconciliation, but for now indigenous leaders insisted on being involved in arranging the papal visit to ensure let Francis stop at places that are of spiritual importance to their people.
Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, thanked Francis for addressing all the issues that the indigenous delegations had brought to him. “And he did it in a way that really showed his empathy for the Indigenous peoples of Canada,” he said.
Nearly three quarters of the 130 residential schools in Canada were run by Catholic missionary congregations.
Last May, the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Nation announced the discovery of 215 burial sites near Kamloops, British Columbia, discovered using ground-penetrating radar. It was the largest residential school in Canada and the discovery of the graves was the first of many similar grim sites across the country.
Even before the burial sites were uncovered, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada specifically called for a papal apology to be issued on Canadian soil for the Church’s role in the abuses.
Additionally, as part of the settlement of a lawsuit involving the Canadian government, churches and the approximately 90,000 surviving students, Canada paid reparations amounting to billions of dollars transferred to Indigenous communities. The Catholic Church, for its part, contributed more than $50 million and now plans to add another $30 million over the next five years.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, acknowledged Francis’ apology and said he looked forward to him delivering it in person in Canada.
“This apology would not have happened without the long advocacy of survivors who traveled to speak their truths directly to the institution responsible and who recounted and relived their painful memories,” he said. “Today’s apology is a step forward in acknowledging the truth of our past in order to right historic wrongs, but there is still work to be done.”
Francis said he felt ashamed for the role Catholic educators had played in evil, “in abuse and disrespect for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values,” he said. he says. “It is obvious that the content of the faith cannot be transmitted in a way foreign to the faith itself.”
“It is frightening to think of determined efforts to instill a sense of inferiority, to rob people of their cultural identity, to cut their roots and to consider all the personal and social effects that this continues to bring: traumas not resolved that have become inter-generational trauma,” he said.
After the papal apology, the audience continued with joyous performances of native prayers by drummers, dancers and fiddlers as Francis watched, clapped and gave a thumbs up. The delegates then presented him with gifts, including snowshoes. Francis, for his part, returned a First Nations crib that the delegation had left for him overnight as he pondered his apology.
Francis’ apology went far beyond what Pope Benedict XVI offered in 2009 during a visit by a delegation from the Assembly of First Nations. At the time, Benedict XVI only expressed his “sadness at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of certain members of the church”. But he didn’t apologize.
The Argentine pope is no stranger to apologizing for his own mistakes and for what he himself called the “crimes” of the institutional Church. More importantly, during a visit to Bolivia in 2015, he apologized for the sins, crimes and delicts committed by the Church against indigenous peoples during the conquest of the Americas during colonial times.
He pointed out that these same colonial crimes occurred much more recently in Canada in Catholic residential schools.
“Your identity and your culture have been hurt, many families separated, many children have become victims of this action of homogenization, supported by the idea that progress passes through ideological colonization, according to programs studied at the table rather than by respect for peoples’ lives,” he said.
This version corrects the First Nations Chief’s name to Gérald Antoine.