Pope Francis won’t apologize for residential school legacy

By Bryan Eneas
March 28, 2018 - 2:00pm

The Catholic Church won’t be offering any apologies to Indigenous people for their experiences in Canada's residential school system.

According to a release issued by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the pope is aware of the findings and the calls to action made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but he will not offer an apology to Indigenous people.

“As far as Call to Action #58 is concerned, after carefully considering the request and extensive dialogue with the Bishops of Canada, [Pope Francis] felt that he could not personally respond,” the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a letter addressed to the Indigenous People of Canada and signed by their President Lionel Gendron.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action referred to in the letter specifically identified the Roman Catholic Church, calling for an apology similar to the apology granted to Irish victims of abuse in 2010. The letter said the Catholic Bishops of Canada was in dialogue with Pope Francis and the Holy See regarding the suffering experienced by Indigenous people and noted the pope encouraged Bishops to engage in activities promoting reconciliation, healing, and solidarity with Indigenous people.

An official visit to Canada was not ruled out in the letter.

“A future Papal visit to Canada may be considered, taking into account all circumstances, and including an encounter with Indigenous Peoples as a top priority,” the letter read.

The Canadian residential school system operated between the 1880’s and 1996. The federal government sustained the operations while various churches, including the Catholic Church, administered education programming.

Although the pope will not apologize directly, other leaders within the church and public figures have done so previously. In November of 1993, members of the Conference of Catholic Bishops submitted a letter to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples offering an apology. They said they regret “the pain, actions and alienation” survivors experienced at residential schools.

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to residential school survivors in November of 2008 on behalf of the government of Canada, though that apology has been controversial because former students in Newfoundland and Labrador were not included. Current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered apologies to survivors in those provinces Nov. 24, 2017.

Trudeau told reporters he was disappointed by the pope's recent decision not to personally participate in an apology. He said reconciliation stretches beyond the relationship between government and Indigenous people. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer echoed Trudeau's comments, saying all institutions responsible for the residential school system should offer their apologies in order to advance reconciliation in Canada.


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