Despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recommendation, Pope Francis will not apologize for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the operation of residential schools in Canada.
Bishop Lionel Gendron, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a letter to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada that the Pope recognizes the injustices faced by Indigenous people but he can’t issue a personal apology.
“The Catholic Bishops of Canada have been in dialogue with the Pope and the Holy See concerning the legacy of suffering you have experienced,” Gendron stated in the letter. “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.”
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde released a statement highlighting the importance of an apology from Pope Francis and urging him to come to Canada to discuss the issue with Indigenous Peoples.
“Hearing an apology directly from Pope Francis would be an important act of healing and reconciliation, much like his apology delivered to the Indigenous peoples of the Americas in 2015,” Bellegarde said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters that he is “disappointed” with the Catholic Church’s decision to not apologize for its role in residential schools.
“Reconciliation is not just between government and Indigenous Peoples, it’s between non-Indigenous Canadians and Indigenous Peoples as well,” Trudeau said. “We will keep working with communities, keep working with individuals on the path of reconciliation because we know that taking responsibility for past mistakes and asking forgiveness is something that is core to our values as Canadians.”
The original purpose of residential schools was to assimilate Indigenous Peoples into Canadian societies. This included eliminating the use of their languages and cultural practices.
The federal government operated 130 residential schools across the country and the Catholic Church ran over 70 per cent of these establishments. More than 150,000 Indigenous children attended these schools, reporting being physically, emotionally and sexually abused during their time there by religious leaders and other teachers.
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