Pope Francis accepts an official invitation to visit Montreal from Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican May 27. The Pope was invited to visit Montreal in 2017 for the city’s 375th anniversary. CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano, handout

Pope won't be apologizing to First Nations, Canadian visit not on 2017 calendar

  • December 7, 2016

OTTAWA – Pope Francis has turned down invitations to visit Canada in 2017 but has left open the possibility of a papal visit in the following two years.

That means the Pope will not be present as Canada marks the 150th anniversary of Confederation, nor Montreal’s 375th Jubilee celebrations.

The decision also means the Pope will not meet the timeline set out in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Francis to personally apologize to residential school survivors and their communities.

Pope Benedict issued such an apology in 2009 at a Vatican meeting with a delegation of native leaders, but this new call is for an apology on Canadian soil.

Issued last June, the Truth and Reconciliation report included a call for a papal apology in Canada within one year “to survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools.”

The Pope’s decision came in a Nov. 30 letter from the Papal Nuncio in Ottawa to Bishop Douglas Crosby, the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“His Holiness Pope Francis has asked me to share with you his response to the invitation to visit Canada during the course of 2017,” wrote Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi. “In this regard, with gratitude for the invitations received, Pope Francis wishes to communicate that it will not be possible for him to visit Canada in 2017, but it is his earnest hope to consider the possibility of including Canada among the destinations of his Apostolic Visits at the time of planning his travels for 2018-2019.”

The Nuncio asked Crosby to communicate the news to the Canadian bishops.

In addition to a formal invitation to Pope Francis from Canada’s bishops, the Pope was also invited last February to visit Montreal during its 375th anniversary by Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, who visited the Pope in Rome with Archbishop Christian Lépine. He was again invited in May by Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard during a brief meeting in St. Peter’s Square.

Through the Montreal Archdiocese’s website, Lépine thanked Pope Francis for considering the visit.

“The presence of the Holy Father would certainly have generated great enthusiasm here,” the website said. “All the same, the 375th anniversary of Montreal remains a unique opportunity to highlight the spiritual dimension of the city’s origins.”

Senator Murray Sinclair, who co-chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was not available for comment before deadline.

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