Pope Francis apologizes to Indigenous delegates from Canada


“All of these things are contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” the pope said at the Apostolic Palace. “For the deplorable conduct of these members of the Catholic Church, I ask God’s forgiveness, and I want to tell you with all my heart: I am truly sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your forgiveness.

Francis reiterated a promise made last year to visit Canada, where he said he would be “better able” to express his “closeness”.

The pope has come under renewed pressure to apologize for the church’s role in the residential school system after several Indigenous communities in Canada said last year that ground-penetrating radar had uncovered evidence of hundreds of unmarked graves on or near the sites of former schools. .

Beginning in the 19th century, at least 150,000 Aboriginal children were separated from their families – often by force – to attend government-funded, church-run institutions that aimed to assimilate them into what the Commission of Truth and Reconciliation of Canada has called it a “cultural genocide”. in a 2015 report.

He said children were punished for practicing their traditions or speaking their language, and many suffered various forms of abuse. She identified thousands of children who died in schools, including from disease, malnutrition, suicide or trying to escape. Some were buried in unmarked graves.

The last school closed in the 1990s. Most were run by Catholic entities. The Anglican, United and Presbyterian Churches of Canada, which ran some schools, apologized for their role. While some Catholic entities and local church leaders had apologized, Francis and his predecessor had previously expressed grief but did not issue an apology.

A papal apology on Canadian soil was among the commission’s 94 calls to action.

Francis met separately this week with Métis, Inuit and First Nations delegates. The delegation, whose visit was delayed by the pandemic, was made up of Indigenous leaders, elders, youth and survivors of residential schools, who shared stories of their experiences at residential schools and the effects that are still being felt. in their communities.

Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a national organization representing Inuit in Canada, said the apology was “long overdue” and he was “touched” by the way the pope “expressed his grief” .

“In Pope Francis’ statement today, I see that we have been heard. I hear we were heard,” Cassidy Caron, president of the Métis National Council, told reporters. “This week has really shown that there is power in our stories and there is power in our truths.”

Delegates also pressed Francis to release records that could help identify children who died at schools and criticized the Church for failing to meet its obligations under a class action settlement with residential school survivors from from 2006.

Others have called for the return of Indigenous artifacts and the revoking of age-old papal bulls that enshrined the so-called Doctrine of Discovery and were used to justify colonization in the Americas.

The pope did not comment on these requests. Bishop William McGrattan, vice president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, told reporters that the Canadian bishops do not support the “underlying concepts” that support the papal bulls and that the Vatican is studying perspectives on the matter.

As he often does, Francis lamented “the many forms of political, ideological and economic colonization” that “still exist in the world, driven by greed and the thirst for profit, without caring about the peoples.”

Massimo Faggioli, professor of theology at Villanova University, said the pope “cleverly framed ‘the question of the Church’s role in the residential school system’ within a larger framework that he has been working on for many years. now, which he calls “ideological colonization”.

“He believes that as Catholics we are part of the historical problem, but we are also part of the solution, [so] it is a clear link with what he has always said, but above all with the Amazon synod,” he added, referring to the meeting of Catholic bishops in 2019 which discussed a series of issues facing the Amazon region faces, including the importance of protecting indigenous culture. .

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Catholic who personally asked the Pope for an apology in 2017, said Friday he acknowledged the apology and looked forward to Francis coming to Canada to deliver it in person. Ottawa issued an apology for its role in the residential school system in 2008.

Francis didn’t provide a date for his visit to Canada, but joked that it probably wouldn’t be in the winter. He said he derived “joy” from the delegates’ reverence for St Anne and “hoped” to be with them on her feast day this year. It’s in July.

Phil Fontaine, a former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations who was among the first to speak publicly about the abuse he suffered at residential schools, said it was a “monumental” day.

“So many people have said in the past that they couldn’t begin the healing process that would lead to true reconciliation without hearing the pope say, ‘I’m sorry,'” he said. “We are witnessing this moment today, and I sincerely believe that people now have an opportunity… to forgive. But forgiving is just as hard as apologizing.

Coletta reported from Toronto.


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