A man places flowers on a memorial in front of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C. May 29. CNS photo/Dennis Owen, Reuters

The children 'must not be forgotten': Cardinal Thomas Collins responds to discovery of graves at Kamloops residential school

  • June 4, 2021

The “betrayal of trust” by those responsible for Canada’s residential schools must “compel us to ensure that our sins are not repeated,” said Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto.

In a statement issued June 3, the cardinal reacted to the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., that was run by a Catholic religious order.

“We pray for the children who died in Kamloops and in residential schools throughout the country -- they must not be forgotten,” said Collins. “We must also recognize the betrayal of trust by many Catholic leaders who were responsible for operating residential schools, abandoning their obligation to care for young and innocent children.”

The Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation revealed the discovery of the mass burial site May 27. The school was run by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate from 1892 to 1969, when the federal government took over administration. It closed in 1978.

“We all seek the truth and this tragic discovery provides yet another opportunity for us to learn more about this dark chapter in our history and the painful journey experienced by so many of our Indigenous brothers and sisters,” said Collins.

Collins added that while many of the Catholics orders responsible for the schools have apologized publicly, “These actions do not erase our history; they acknowledge our past, force us to face the consequences of our behaviour and compel us to ensure that our sins are not repeated.”

He also noted that Pope Benedict XVI had met with Indigenous leaders in 2009 to express his sorrow over the Church’s role in the abuse that happened at residential schools.

The cardinal’s statement is one of many from Catholic leaders across the country who have offered prayers and support in the wake of the discovery, including the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Collins said there is “much more work to be done” in the Church’s efforts at reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, but it is “committed to walking together on a path to reconciliation.”

While the Archdiocese  of Toronto did not operate any residential schools, “we join with the Indigenous peoples, the Catholic community and Canadians from coast to coast to coast in a period of collective grief for those who are physically, emotionally and spiritually wounded,” Collins said.

“As I have stated previously when speaking of abuse in the Church, the real scandal is when evil festers in the darkness,” said Collins. “Once in the open, evil can be rooted out. That must happen. Then new life can begin. Let us journey together to find light through the darkness once again.”

The discovery of the bodies has revived demands for Pope Francis to publicly apologize on Canadian soil, which was one of the “calls to action” from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report of 2015.

The statement from the archdiocese noted the many apologies have come from religious orders who ran schools over the years, including the Oblates. Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver added his own apology on June 2 and admitted the Catholic Church was “unquestionably wrong in implementing a government colonialist policy which resulted in devastation for children, families and communities.”

Meeting with Canada’s Indigenous leaders, including National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine, in 2009, Pope Benedict “expressed his sorrow at the anguish” caused by some members of the Church. Fontaine later told media it was a “very significant statement” that he hoped would “close the book” on the issue of apologies.

Pope Francis has been invited to Canada by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2017 to make an apology. In 2018, the Pope told Canada’s bishops he could not “personally respond” to the TRC’s request for an apology, but encouraged the bishops in furthering their reconciliation efforts.

A papal visit wasn’t ruled out, but the latest statement from the Archdiocese of Toronto noted none has been announced and would require significant financial and logistical input from bishops and governments.

Comments (2)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

More hollow palaver.
Ashamed of my church leadership....

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

It is good that some apologies have been made. However, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and indigenous leaders have asked for more. Comply. The time to show true penitence is now, without delay:

1) Have a full, humble, public papal...

It is good that some apologies have been made. However, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and indigenous leaders have asked for more. Comply. The time to show true penitence is now, without delay:

1) Have a full, humble, public papal apology on an indigenous chosen setting, as soon as Covid protocols allow.
2) Pay the 25 million dollar settlement requested by TRC. Now.
3) Turn over all records from all schools. Now.

To do less in unacceptable.

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