In 2017, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Catholic, requested that Pope Francis issue an apology for the Church’s role in the country’s residential school system. The pope declined to give an apology, but has repeatedly expressed “sorrow” at the various atrocities which occurred at the Church-administered schools.
Canada’s residential school system operated from the 1870s until 1996. First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children were separated from their families and sent to the schools, established by the federal government and run by Catholics and members of Protestant denominations, to force assimilation and strip them of familial and cultural ties.
The Catholic Church, or Catholic religious orders, ran more than two-thirds of these schools.
According to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an estimated 4,100 to 6,000 students died as a result of neglect or abuse in the schools. Many unmarked graves located on or near the locations of the former schools were discovered over the summer.
Individual bishops, religious orders, as well as the CCCB, have issued apologies for the role the Church played in operating the schools. The Canadian government, as well as other Christian churches, have similarly apologized.
For Chief RoseAnne Archibald, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, an apology from Pope Francis is just the beginning of what she would like to see happen.
“I’ll welcome Pope Francis when he arrives on Turtle Island to issue a long overdue apology to survivors and intergenerational trauma survivors,” she said. “Meegwetch to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops for acting on our request that the Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action #58 is actioned upon and eventually completed.”
“Meegwetch'' means “thank you” in Algonquin. In 2015, the commission issued several “call to action”; #58 was an apology from the pope.
“I reiterate that the Catholic church [sic] must be accountable and acknowledge their responsibility for the great harm caused by their direct role in the institutions of assimilation and genocide that they ran,” she said. Archibald called for further reparations, including “returning diocese land properties back to First Nations,” and additional investment into healing initiatives.
Archibald requested that Pope Francis “formally revoke ‘Inter Caetera’ 1493 Doctrine of Discovery,” and “replace it with a Papal Bull that decrees Indigenous Peoples and cultures are valuable, worthy, and must be treated with dignity and respect.”
Inter Caetera was a papal bull from 1493 granting control of what is now parts of North and South America to Portuguese and Spanish monarchs, as well as control of lands currently occupied by non-Christians.
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Christine Rousselle is a former DC Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. Prior to working at CNA, she was the managing web editor of Townhall.com; she has a BA in political science from Providence College.