NDP MP Charlie Angus believes Pope Francis will “do the right thing” and come to Canada to apologize for abuses at residential schools. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

MP Charlie Angus wants Parliament to approach Pope directly for apology

  • April 25, 2018

OTTAWA – The NDP has considerably softened a motion to invite Pope Francis to apologize for Indian residential schools after a previous motion failed to get unanimous consent April 18.

The new motion no longer would have Parliament call upon the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) to invite the Pope but would invite the Pope directly, bypassing the bishops.

The NDP planned on using its Opposition day April 26 to put the new motion before the House for debate.  The vote is likely to take place May 1.

The new motion calls on the House to “invite Pope Francis to participate in this journey with Canadians by responding to Call to Action 58 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions report and issue a formal papal apology for the role of the Canadian Catholic Church in the establishment, operations and abuses of the residential schools.”

“We are very confident that Pope Francis will respond positively to this demand,” said NDP MP Charlie Angus, stressing the importance of responding to the TRC’s finding that the schools represented a form of “cultural genocide” aimed at “destroying the Indigenous identity” of the children who attended.

“We believe that Pope Francis will do the right thing,” Angus said. “Pope Francis has a reputation as a social justice leader. We believe it is now straightforward to ask the Pope to participate directly and respond.”

Angus said reconciliation is the “fundamental question for our nation at this time,” adding that the residential school system “oversaw horrific levels of abuse.”

He urged the Catholic Church to “step up” and “recognize the role of the Catholic Church” in an “attempt to destroy Indigenous identity.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invited the Pope to Canada last year during an audience in the Vatican, stressing the need for an apology to Indigenous people on Canadian soil. It was not immediately clear how this invitation would differ from Trudeau’s. Last fall, former CCCB president Bishop Douglas Crosby said the Pope would not come to Canada without the support of the bishops.

“It would be an honour for the Pope to come to Canada,” said NDP MP Georgina Jolibois, who described herself as a Dene-speaking Indigenous woman and a practising Catholic.

The representative of the Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River riding said a papal visit would be an honour “for all Canadians.” 

“It’s important that my church, the Catholic Church, issue an apology and I would like to see that from the Pope,” Jolibois said.

The CCCB responded to the new motion with the following statement from its communications director: “The bishops in Canada overwhelmingly support the pastoral plan as expressed by the president in his recent letter to Indigenous Peoples.”

In that March 27 letter to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, CCCB president Bishop Lionel Gendron wrote: “The Holy Father is aware of the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which he takes seriously. 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.”

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

“It was good that the TRC recorded the sentiment on the ground that it would be tremendously meaningful that Pope Francis come and make an apology,” said Cecil Chabot, a historian and director of the Newman Centre at McGill. 

“If the timing and content are dictated it has far less meaning,” he said. “The more political pressure there is, the more there is a need to take additional time to respond so it can be seen as a free act rather than one that is merely pressured.”

Angus’ revised motion calls for the Catholic Church in Canada to resume its best-efforts fundraising campaign to meet the full $25 million the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement asked for as a goal. The Catholic entities only raised $3.7 million.

“I think the call to renew the best efforts for fundraising is a good one,” Chabot said.

The revised motion no longer calls on the CCCB to release documents related to the residential schools, responding perhaps to an open letter the conference had sent MPs and Senators to clear up “inaccuracies” and “misconceptions” related to the first motion.  The CCCB stressed it had no documents nor could it force Catholic entities to turn them over. The new motion calls on the Catholic entities directly regarding documents.

Angus had sought unanimous consent on the previous motion, calling on the CCCB to invite the Pope. The motion had secured the support of the Liberals, the Bloc Quebecois and the Green Party leader. The Conservatives decided to make the issue a free vote, and Conservative MP Garnett Genuis refused unanimous consent.

“I think some of those questions are questions for the Catholic Church,” Genuis told journalists. 

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