More than 4,000 people have signed a petition requesting that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cease blaming the Catholic Church for the country’s residential school system. 

The residential school system was set up by the Canadian government, beginning in the 1870s, as a means of forcibly assimilating indigenous children and stripping them of familial and cultural ties. The Catholic Church or Catholics oversaw more than two-thirds of the schools. 

“I am deeply disappointed in the comments you made on nationwide television on Friday calling for the Catholic Church to release records on the Residential School system,” says the petition, which was created in June on The petition’s writer is not named, but the petition was created by Catholic Equalizer, which describes themselves as “a group of Canadians who chose Catholicism in adulthood.” 

The petition claims that Trudeau’s comments “have resulted in severely biased coverage that is now airing on news channels” throughout the country. Since the comments were made, the petition claims there have been “Calls to tear down St. Michael's Cathedral” in Toronto, as well as “statements claiming that Catholicism is an ‘intrusive religion.’” 

These statements, says the petition, constitute “hate speech that should not be acceptable and should not be promoted by our Prime Minister.” 

“Good Catholics, priests and bishops should not have to face persecution because of your irresponsible words,” says the petition. 

The petition accuses Trudeau of an “attempt to deflect attention away from the responsibility of the Canadian government by gaslighting and scapegoating,” and that this is an attempt to gain favor among the Canadian people before the upcoming election. 

“Instead of deflecting attention away from your government in relation to the Residential School system issue and the fact that past governments had themselves destroyed many records, your government should be engaged in the hard work of reconciliation as the Catholic Church has done over recent decades,” says the petition. An attempt to shift media converge “is political opportunism and does not reflect well on your office or on Canada.” 

“Statements that suggest that there is a big coverup  by the Church are irresponsible, misleading, disingenuous and detract from the truth,” says the petition. 

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“While I am equally outraged at the treatment of indigenous people at those schools, I do not believe that publicly blaming the Catholic Church is appropriate or wise,” says the petition.

“It is not appropriate to blame an entire religion or an entire church for the sins of some of its members,” says the petition, noting that all Muslims are not blamed and Islam is not condemned for the actions of terrorist organizations.

The petition notes that while “there is no excuse” for the atrocities that occurred at Canada’s residential schools, and that “Catholics should not have been involved in a government program to mistreat indigenous people and destroy their families … we must remember that these grave sins are not the policy or the intent of the Church.”

“There was no Vatican policy or program to implement the Residential School system in Canada,” says the petition, “and therefore it is inappropriate to be asking the Pope to apologize when such a system was not sanctioned by the Catholic Church.”

The residential school system was set up by the Canadian government beginning in the 1870s, and the schools themselves were overseen by Catholics and members of Christian denominations. The Catholic Church, or Catholic religious orders, ran more than two-thirds of these schools at one point. The last federally-run residential school closed in 1996. 

First Nations and other Indigenous children were separated from their families and sent to the schools as a means of forcible assimilation, to strip them of family and cultural ties. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which operated between 2008 and 2015, reported on the history of the school system and determined the schools were part of Canada’s Aboriginal policy of “cultural genocide.” The commission found that at least 4,100 children died from “disease or accident” at the schools. 

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The Truth and Reconciliation Commission requested an apology from the pope as one of its recommendations. Pope Francis declined to apologize.