Canada Says Papal Apology To Indigenous Peoples Isn’t Enough

QUEBEC CITY — The Canadian government made clear on Wednesday that Pope Francis’ apology to indigenous peoples for abuse in the country’s church-run residential schools did not go far enough, suggesting that reconciliation over its fraught history is still a work in progress.

The official government response came as Francis arrived in Quebec City to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Mary Simon at her Quebec residence, the hilltop Citadelle Fort, during the second leg of Francis’ week-long visit to Canada. .

The government’s criticisms echo those of some survivors and include the omission of any reference to Francis’ sexual abuse of native children in the schools, as well as his original reluctance to name the Catholic Church as a responsible institution.

Francis has said he is on a “penitent pilgrimage” to atone for the Church’s role in the residential school system, in which generations of Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes and forced into church-run, government-funded boarding schools to assimilate them into Christian, Canadian society. The Canadian government has said that physical and sexual abuse was rampant in the schools, with students being beaten for speaking their native language.

Francis on Monday apologized for the “bad” church personnel who worked in the schools and the “catastrophic” effect of the school system on indigenous families. In a speech to government authorities on Wednesday, Francis again apologized and labeled the school system “deplorable”.

Francis noted that the school system was “promoted by government authorities at the time” as part of a policy of assimilation and voting rights. But in response to criticism, he added that “local Catholic institutions played a role” in the implementation of that policy.

Indigenous peoples have long demanded that the Pope take responsibility not only for the abuses committed by individual Catholic priests and religious orders, but also for the Catholic Church’s institutional support for assimilation policies and the 15th-century religious justification of the papacy for the European colonial expansion to spread Christianity.

More than 150,000 Indigenous children in Canada were taken from their homes and placed in schools from the 1800s to the 1970s in an effort to isolate them from the influence of their families and culture.

Trudeau, a Catholic whose father, Pierre Trudeau, was Prime Minister while the last residential schools were in operation, insisted that the Catholic Church as an institution be blamed and must do more to atone.

Speaking for Francis, he noted that in 2015, the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission had called for a papal apology on Canadian soil, but that Francis’ visit “would not have been possible without the courage and perseverance” of survivors of the war. First Nations, Inuit and Metis who traveled to the Vatican last spring to apologize.

“Apologies for the role the Roman Catholic Church, as an institution, played in the mistreatment of the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse suffered by indigenous children in church-run residential schools,” Trudeau said.

The Canadian government has apologized for its role in the school’s legacy. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper formally apologized for the residential schools in parliament in 2008, calling them a sad chapter in Canadian history and saying the policies of forced assimilation were wreaking havoc.

As part of a settlement of a lawsuit involving the government, churches and the approximately 90,000 surviving students, Canada paid billions of dollars of reparations that were handed over to indigenous communities. The Catholic Church, for its part, has paid more than $50 million and plans to add $30 million more over the next five years.

Trudeau suggested that much more needed to be done by the church, and that while Francis’s visit had “a huge impact” on the survivors, it was only a first step.

Aside from the content of his speech, Trudeau’s comments broke customary protocol for papal travel. Under diplomatic protocol, only Simon was allowed to address the Pope in her capacity as representative head of state. Simon, an Inuk who is the first indigenous person to hold the largely ceremonial position of governor general, addressed Francis.

But the Vatican said Trudeau’s office asked the prime minister to make some preliminary remarks, a request that came in the days before Francis left Rome but after the Pope’s itinerary was finalized and printed.

A senior Canadian government official said Trudeau typically makes remarks during visits by foreign leaders and that it was important for him to address Canadians during Francis’s visit “particularly given the importance of the matter”. However, it was added at the last minute.

Before Francis arrived in Quebec City, Crown Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said the “gaps” in Francis’s apology could not be ignored.

Echoing criticism from some school survivors, Miller noted that Francis did not include sexual abuse in his list of abuses that Indigenous children endure in the schools. Francis on Monday instead listed physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse. In addition, Miller noted that Francis Monday spoke of “evil” committed by individual Christians “but not of the Catholic Church as an institution.”

Phil Fontaine, a survivor of sexual abuse in the schools and former national head of the Assembly of First Nations, said Wednesday’s additional reference to “local Catholic institutions” went beyond Francis’s original apology and was significant and closest in the came close to making excuses. for the entire Church in Canada.

“It reflects the reality that the Catholic Church in Canada is not one institution. It consists of about 73 different legal institutions, all of which were defendants in the lawsuits,” Fontaine said in a statement.

Francis’ visit has sparked mixed feelings among the survivors and their relatives, as well as indigenous leaders and community members. Some have welcomed his apology as sincere and helpful in helping them heal. Others have said it was just the first step in a long reconciliation process. Still others have said it didn’t go far enough to take responsibility for institutional abuses going back centuries.

Francis himself has admitted that the wounds take time to heal and that his visit and apologies were only first steps. On Wednesday, he pledged to himself and the local Canadian church to “go forward on a brotherly and patient journey with all Canadians, in accordance with truth and justice, working for healing and reconciliation, and continually inspired by hope.”

“Our desire is to renew the relationship between the Church and the indigenous peoples of Canada, a relationship marked by both a love that has borne extraordinary fruit and, tragically, deep wounds that we want to understand and heal,” he said. he.

But he did not mention any specific actions the Holy See was willing to take.

Trudeau also said the visit was a start and that reconciliation was everyone’s duty. “It is our responsibility to see our differences not as an obstacle, but as an opportunity to learn, understand each other better and take action.”


Associated Press religious coverage is supported by the AP’s partnership with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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