ROME — Pope Francis traveled to Canada on Sunday to seek atonement for the hasty burial of hundreds of indigenous children, some as young as 3, who died in the custody of the Catholic Church in 19th century to the 1970s.
The trip is the product of the discovery in 2021 of an unmarked grave containing the remains of some 215 Indigenous children who died at a Catholic boarding school in Kamloops, British Columbia. About 150,000 Aboriginal children were taken from their families to be “retrained” in Christian beliefs in the 19th century, a practice that continued for decades.
Among the practices documented were beatings when children spoke their Indigenous languages and brainwashing to assimilate into Canadian Christian life.
In 2015, the Canadian government launched a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to try to determine what happened to thousands of children who never returned home. The discovery of the Kamloops tomb led to massive excavations of other residential school yards in search of answers. In March, representatives of the groups met the pope in Rome in a highly contentious meeting that was peppered with what many called hypocritical displays of indigenous dancing and gift-giving.
The discovery has sparked criticism among abuse survivors who say the pope’s visit will do nothing to protect children from ongoing abuse.
“Unfortunately, it took the discovery of mass graves and the realization of murder, rape and slavery to trigger a response from the Vatican,” said Brenda Brunelle, head of the Canadian Survival Network for those abused by priests, known as SNAP. statement to The Daily Beast. “It’s long overdue, needed and not good enough.”
She said the apostolic visitation is veiled in hypocrisy. “It may be meaningful for some, many may find his visit traumatic,” she said. “Church leaders have taken decades to recognize some of the dark chapters in Canadian history. Because Pope Francis is making a widely publicized visit, we can’t help but wonder if a child anywhere on earth is safer now than a pope has landed at the crime scene. Nope.”
The visit will first take the pontiff to Edmonton, where he is expected to apologize to First Nations leaders, before traveling to Quebec City and later to Iqaluit, Nunavut, in the far northern provinces. Unlike most papal trips, this is not a time to celebrate the Catholic Church. He will give a mass of repentance on Tuesday in Edmonton before a crowd expected to reach 65,000. He will also visit various First Nations sites each day of his six-day tour.
“This apology validates our experiences and creates an opportunity for the church to mend relationships with Indigenous peoples around the world.”
— Grand Chief George Arcand Jr., Treaty Six Confederacy
Survivors are asking for more than an apology. They want the Vatican to return Vatican Museum artifacts that they claim belong to them. They also want records from the Vatican archives on the deaths of the victims, the criminal justice brought against the attackers and the financial reparations, none of which should be awarded.
The Inuit community also wants the Vatican to help extradite Joannes Rivoire, an Oblate priest who led much of the most horrific abuse, extradited from France on a child sex abuse arrest warrant issued by Canada in 1998. Inuit leader Natan Obed has already asked Francis for his personal help, but the Vatican press office says they “have no information on the matter.”
The visit is expected to draw protests at each of the Pope’s events, which is a far cry from the accolades he is used to receiving. “This apology validates our experiences and creates an opportunity for the church to restore relationships with Indigenous peoples around the world,” Grand Chief George Arcand Jr., Treaty Six Confederacy, said ahead of the visit. “It doesn’t stop there, there is a lot to do. It’s a beginning. »