Canada says the Pope’s apology to indigenous peoples is not enough

Canada says the Pope’s apology to indigenous peoples is not enough

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

The official government response came as Francis arrived in Quebec City for meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Mary Simon at her Quebec residence, the hilltop fortress Citadelle, on the second leg of Francis’ weeklong visit to Canada.

The government’s criticism echoes that of some survivors and centers on Francis’ omission of any reference to sexual abuse suffered by indigenous children in schools, as well as his initial reluctance to name the Catholic Church as an institution bearing responsibility.

Francis has said he is on a “penance pilgrimage” to atone for the church’s role in the residential school system, where generations of indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes and forced to attend church-run, state-funded boarding schools to assimilate. them into the Christian Canadian community. The Canadian government has said physical and sexual abuse was rife in the schools, with students beaten for speaking their native language.

Francis apologized on Monday for the “evil” of church staff working in the schools and the “catastrophic” effect of the school system on indigenous families. In a speech to authorities on Wednesday, Francis again apologized and slammed the school system as “deplorable”.

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

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

More than 150,000 native children in Canada were taken from their homes from the 19th century to the 1970s and placed in schools in an attempt 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 operating, insisted that the Catholic Church as an institution was to blame and must do more to atone.

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

“Deplore 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,” Trudeau said.

The Canadian government has apologized for its role in the school legacy. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a formal apology over the residential schools in Parliament in 2008, calling them a sad chapter in Canadian history and saying the policy of forced assimilation caused great harm.

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

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

Aside from the content of his speech, Trudeau’s remarks broke the usual protocol for papal trips. According to diplomatic protocol, only Simon was to address the Pope in his 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 be allowed to make some opening remarks, a request that came days before Francis left Rome but after the pope’s itinerary had been finalized and printed.

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

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

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

Phil Fontaine, a survivor of sexual abuse at the schools and former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said the additional reference Wednesday to “local Catholic institutions” went beyond Francis’ original apology and was significant and the closest he could come to asking for apology. for the whole 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 stirred mixed feelings among survivors and their relatives, as well as indigenous leaders and community members. Some have welcomed his apology as genuine and helpful in helping them heal. Others have said it was only the first step in a long process of reconciliation. Still others have said it did not go far enough in accepting responsibility for institutional failures dating back centuries.

Francis himself has acknowledged that the wounds will take time to heal, and that his visit and apology were only the first step. On Wednesday, he committed himself and the local Canadian church to “continue a fraternal and patient journey with all Canadians, consistent with truth and justice, working for healing and reconciliation, and ever inspired by hope.”

“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.

But he did not list 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, to understand each other better and to take action.”


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

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