Pope Francis meets Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a private audience in 2017 at the Vatican. CNS/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters

Pope Francis not coming to Canada to apologize for residential schools

  • March 28, 2018

Pope Francis won’t be coming to Canada to personally apologize for the suffering endured by Indigenous Canadians at residential schools, a decision that has prompted disappointment from several corners, including the prime minister.

A personal apology from the Pope, delivered on Canadian soil, was one of 94 “Calls to Action” that came out of a five-year Truth and Reconciliation Commission review of the legacy of residential schools in 2015.

"Obviously I'm disappointed with the Catholic Church's decision not to apologize for their role in residential schools," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said outside the House of Commons on March 28. "Reconciliation is not just between government and Indigenous peoples; it's between non-Indigenous Canadians and Indigenous peoples as well."

In a March 27 letter to the Indigenous peoples of Canada, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops president Bishop Lionel Gendron delivered the news that Pope Francis is not able to travel to Canada for the sole purpose of delivering the apology.

“As far as Call to Action #58 is concerned, after carefully considering the request and extensive dialogue with the bishops of Canada, he (Pope Francis) felt that he could not personally respond,” Gendron, the bishop of Saint-Jean-Longueil in Quebec, wrote.

Gendron stressed that reconciliation with Canada’s original inhabitants remains “a major pastoral priority,” for Canada’s bishops and the Church from coast to coast.

“We look forward to a future where systemic injustices are meaningfully addressed, where we all discover new ways of living together through which the First Peoples of this land are honoured and respected,” he wrote.

Gendron and Cardinal Gerald Lacroix of Quebec met with Trudeau before the announcement to deliver the news. While meeting with the PM, they also discussed other non-related topics concerning the Church, including the controversy around the Canada Summer Jobs attestation.  

In a statement to The Canadian Press, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said he would seek a meeting with the Pope to discuss further a trip to Canada. "Hearning an apology directly from Pope Francis would be an important act of healing and reconciliation, much like he apology delivered to the Indigenous people of the Americas in 2015," Bellegarde said.

To the surprise of some, the question of a papal visit to Canada was not on the official agenda when Canadian bishops held their annual plenary in Cornwall, Ont., Sept. 25-29. 

Outgoing CCCB president Douglas Crosby of Hamilton said the matter had to be considered carefully “because it can be really expensive.” 

“That’s why there is a lot of discussion with government and with other agencies,” said Crosby. 

However, Winnipeg Archbishop Richard Gagnon, says that "the cost issue may have been of some concern for some, but that was not a focus of conversation."

At the annual meeting of Canadian prelates, bishops seemed divided on how to respond to Call to Action #58. The 2015 call for a papal apology was subsequently repeated by others.

In a May 29, 2017 meeting at the Vatican, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Pope Francis to come to Canada to issue the apology as requested by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The bishops of Saskatchewan issued a similar invitation last December, asking the Pope to make an apology on Canadian soil.

“We call upon the Pope to issue an apology 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,” read the official call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.”

A papal visit, however, requires the support of Canada’s bishops.

“The Pope would never come to a country unless the conference (CCCB) was in favour or supported it, or wanted him to come,” Crosby said last September, adding he doubted the Pope would come “just for an apology.”

Gendron stresses that a future apology on Canadian soil remains a possibility, but the Pope is not at this time able to make the trip.

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

In 2009, Pope Benedict apologized for the Church's role in residential schools during a meeting at the Vatican with Phil Fontaine, then National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and other Indigenous leaders. 

"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 at the time.  

Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said she will continue to push for the TRC's call to action on a papal apology. "Sorrow is not enough," she said in a statement. "Sorrow is never enough. One has to take responsibility for the harm that was done."

When Gendron became president of the CCCB in October he said the bishops were in a process of discernment regarding a papal visit.

“If the Pope wants to come, we will welcome him,” Gendron said. “Our way of interpreting him, Pope Francis would accept (and) if at some point we see that it is important, we might as well say, ‘Holy Father, if you wish to come...”

In his March 27 letter, Gendron emphasizes local and personal efforts to forge a new relationship between the Church and Indigenous Canadians.

“We have heard your invitation to engage honestly and courageously with the past, to acknowledge the failings of members of the Catholic Church, and to take active steps of solidarity with Indigenous Peoples towards a better future,” he wrote. “…We wish to dedicate ourselves with you to reconciliation at the local level through concrete pastoral initiatives.”

Gendron also reminded readers of the Pope’s statements regarding the importance of Indigenous populations world-wide.

“He has pointed to Indigenous Peoples as critical dialogue partners to whom the Church needs to listen,” Gendron wrote.

Comments (1)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

If the pope isn’t against gays why can’t he say sorry to the people who suffered resedntial schools?

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