A woman takes a picture of the memorial outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. CNS photo/Jennifer Gauthier, Reuters

Bishops apologize for residential schools and raise possibility of Pope visit to Canada

  • September 24, 2021

OTTAWA -- Canada’s Catholic bishops have “unequivocally” apologized for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system and have raised the possibility of a visit by the Pope to Canada as part of the “healing journey” between Canada’s Indigenous peoples and the Church.

In a statement released by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) at the end of the CCCB’s annual plenary assembly on Sept. 24, the bishops said “we acknowledge the suffering experienced in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools.”

“Many Catholic religious communities and dioceses participated in this system, which led to the suppression of Indigenous languages, culture and spirituality, failing to respect the rich history, traditions and wisdom of Indigenous Peoples,” the statement released by the CCCB said. “We acknowledge the grave abuses that were committed by some members of our Catholic community; physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, cultural, and sexual. We also sorrowfully acknowledge the historical and ongoing trauma and the legacy of suffering and challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples that continue to this day.”

The statement from the CCCB comes after the Church has been criticized since unmarked graves of children were discovered at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., in May for not doing enough to make amends for the Church’s role in the residential school system and there have been renewed calls for the Pope to visit Canada to issue a formal apology on behalf of the Church on Canadian soil, which was one of the Calls to Action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

A delegation of Indigenous leaders is scheduled to meet with the Pope in the Vatican in December to address the Church’s role in Canada’s residential schools. 

In a statement, Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald welcomed the apology but said it stopped short of inviting the Pope to Canada to personally apologize.

"On one hand, their unequivocal apology is welcomed," she said. "However, I am disappointed that the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops did not take the long overdue step of passing a motion/resolution to formally invite the Pope to Canada to offer his apology to First Nations and Indigenous survivors and intergenerational trauma survivors here on Turtle Island."

She added that the Church has still well short of meeting the goal of $25 million in a “best efforts” campaign as part of the 2006 Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA). That campaign of 2008-2013 — called Moving Forward Together — for healing and reconciliation projects raised only $3.7 million. Further fundraising campaigns have been initiated by some dioceses in the past few months.

 "The words of the apology speak to a commitment by the Catholic Church to the healing path forward with First Nations and Indigenous peoples," Archibald said. "Only time will tell if concrete actions will follow the words of contrition by the Bishops."

The residential school system was established by the federal government, but most were run by religious organizations. Orders within the Catholic Church ran about half the the schools identified in the IRSSA.

“Having heard the requests to engage Pope Francis in this reconciliation process, a delegation of Indigenous survivors, Elders/knowledge keepers, and youth will meet with the Holy Father in Rome in December 2021,” the CCCB’s Sept. 24 statement said.

“Pope Francis will encounter and listen to the Indigenous participants, so as to discern how he can support our common desire to renew relationships and walk together along the path of hope in the coming years,” the CCCB said. “We pledge to work with the Holy See and our Indigenous partners on the possibility of a pastoral visit by the Pope to Canada as part of this healing journey.”

Last modified on September 27, 2021

Comments (1)

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This is modern history. People still living to tell a story.
Rewinding the history tape back 500 years or so during the Spanish conquest, we learned through the history books that the indigenous were savages who honoured their gods by offering...

This is modern history. People still living to tell a story.
Rewinding the history tape back 500 years or so during the Spanish conquest, we learned through the history books that the indigenous were savages who honoured their gods by offering human sacrifices. Who would consider this a humane way of life. But regardless of the veracity of those stories, what methods did the Catholic Church use, especially the Jesuits who were the predominant evangelization order of the times, to appease these savages? Was there truly love, understanding and genuine intentions to teach the Truth or was it the command of the high ranks of the monarchy to change their ways at any cost?
A few years ago I would have still believe that there was a possibility of genuine intentions, but with these recent findings were children were buried in anonymity, it simply makes my heart crush.

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