Canada is demanding more than an apology from the Pope for the abuse of indigenous children in schools

Canada is demanding more than an apology from the Pope for the abuse of indigenous children in schools

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The Canadian government said Pope Francis’ apology for the abuse of indigenous children in the country’s church-run schools was not enough, and argued that the Catholic Church should acknowledge its central role in the scandal.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau demanded “an apology for the role that the Roman Catholic Church, as an institution, played in the abuse of the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse that Indigenous children suffered in church-run schools,” on Wednesday while he spoke before Francis, according to the Associated Press.

At issue is the decades-long abuse Canadian Indigenous children were subjected to in the country’s residential schools run by the government and the church in an attempt to get the students to assimilate into Canadian culture. The children were forcibly removed from their homes and separated from the influence of their parents and native culture in schools, where the Canadian government says sexual abuse was common and students were beaten for speaking their native languages.

Francis was in Canada as part of a “penance pilgrimage” to atone for the church’s role in the scandal, although the pope has been reluctant to name the Catholic Church as the institution responsible for the abuses.


Pope Francis.

Pope Francis.
(AleVatican Pool/Getty Images)

The Pope apologized on Monday for the “evil” of the church personnel who participated in the abuses and the “catastrophic” effect the system had on the children of the indigenous population. In a speech to the Canadian government on Wednesday, Francis again apologized and called the school system “deplorable.”

But Francis also pointed out that the schools were “promoted by the authorities at the time” to promote assimilation, although he noted that “local Catholic institutions had a part” in implementing the policy.

More than 150,000 Indigenous children in Canada were taken from their homes and placed in schools until the 1970s, with Indigenous people long calling on the Catholic Church to recognize its central role in providing institutional support to the system rather than simply condemning individual Catholics priests and religious orders.

Pope Francis.

Indigenous protesters also called on the Pope on Thursday to formally revoke papal decrees linked to the church’s “doctrine of discovery”, which paved the way for the colonial seizure of native lands.

The papal decrees of the 15th century gave European kingdoms religious justification for colonizing new territory, which the church at the time said could help spread Christianity.

Indigenous Canadians believe the doctrine was at least partly responsible for the schools that ultimately resulted in the abuse of thousands of indigenous children, with some protesters unfurling a banner at a Thursday mass that read: “Repeal the doctrine.”

Trudeau, a Catholic, has also called on the Pope to do more to atone for the abuses and “address the doctrine of discovery”.


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
(REUTERS/Patrick Doyle)

The Canadian government formally apologized for its role in the abuses in 2008, when former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the scandal a sad chapter in the country’s history. The Canadian government has paid billions in compensation to 90,000 survivors of the schools as part of a court settlement, while the Catholic Church has paid out $50 million and has pledged to pay $30 million more over the next five years.

Francis said Wednesday that the wounds from the scandal will take time to heal, but noted that his visit and apology were the first steps in a “fraternal and patient journey” to work toward “healing and reconciliation.”

“It is our desire to renew the relationship between the church and the indigenous peoples of Canada, a relationship characterized both by a love that has borne unprecedented fruit and, tragically, deep wounds that we are committed to understanding and healing,” he said.

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