Truth and Reconciliation Commission commissioners Marie Wilson and Chief Wilton Littlechild, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and TRC chair Justice Murray Sinclair Dec. 15 at the closing ceremony of the TRC. Trudeau was presented with a silver box containing a thumb drive of the final report. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Nuncio says Holy Father aware of TRC request for papal apology in Canada

  • December 16, 2015

OTTAWA - The papal nuncio to Canada says Pope Francis is aware of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call for the Pope to deliver an apology for past Church abuses in Canada’s Indian residential schools and is sure he “is listening with all his heart as a pastor.”

“Now, as far as I can sense and perceive, what is important to transmit to him also are the deep reasons, the deep spiritual and cultural motivations that can enlighten and sustain this request in order to let him see that it is not only a formal request contained in a document, but also is coming from a part of the soul of Canada,” said Archbishop Luigi Bonazzo.

“I can assure that there will be truly deep attention.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to raise the issue with the Pope. After meeting aboriginal leaders Dec. 16, he said, “I’m certainly intending to work with the Catholic Church, including the Holy See,” to “move forward” on the Pope apologizing for the Church’s role in past abuses.

Commission chair Justice Murray Sinclair expressed hope Pope Francis would answer the TRC’s demand for a papal apology in Canada for the residential schools. That was one of the 94 Calls to Action unveiled last June in the executive summary of the commission’s final report. The final seven-volume report was released in Ottawa Dec. 15.

“Pope Francis’ recent willingness to acknowledge the past offences of his Church in South America towards the indigenous peoples there also gives us hope that he on behalf of the Catholic Church will issue an apology to the survivors of residential schools in this country,” Sinclair said at the release of the commission’s final report.

Sinclair was referring to Pope Francis’ remarks in Bolivia last July in which he admitted “with regret, many grave sins were created against the native peoples of America in the name of God.”

The Truth and Reconciliation committee has never acknowledged a formal apology Pope Benedict XVI made in 2009 when he met personally with a former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.  

In 2009, Pope Benedict met in the Vatican with a delegation of native leaders under Phil Fontaine. The explicit purpose of the meeting, which was arranged by Archbishop James Weisgerber, former president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, was to let Benedict apologize for Church complicity in residential schools.

“We wanted to hear him say that he understands and that he is sorry and that he feels our suffering — and we heard that very clearly,” Fontaine said after the meeting.

That meeting followed a similar apology made in Parliament by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“We were looking for a similar apology from the Catholic Church, and I was a witness to that today,” Fontaine said six years ago. Native leaders “heard what we came here for,” he said.

Bonazzi said the Holy Father has invitations to come to Canada on his desk from Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre to mark the city’s 375th anniversary. The Pope also has an invitation from Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard.

Papal spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi said in September, at the end of the Pope’s trip to Cuba and the United States, that he is not aware of any “concrete plan for a trip to Canada.”

Bonazzi said he believes the Pope was informed of the demand for an apology when former prime minister Stephen Harper visited the Vatican in June.

“I imagine during this visit to Pope Francis in June, (Harper) might have voiced this,” the nuncio said. “Of course, the Holy Father has been informed about this request.”

The nuncio pointed out “travelling at the age of the Holy Father is not easy.”

“He himself said, ‘I am elderly and travelling takes its toll,’ ” Bonazzi said, noting Pope Francis is now 79.

The nuncio believes a visit to Canada by the Holy Father will be a fruit of a corporate work of prayer and offering “like a choir” so “if it is that must be done, is useful to be done, it may be fulfilled.”

Then, if the Pope comes because “we, with our desire, with our prayer, we brought him, it’s not the plane bringing the Pope to Canada, but we who will bring him to Canada,” he said. “I think this can be a visit in which the protagonists are all of us.”

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