Pope Francis Apologizes for Catholic Church’s Role in Canadian Residential School System

Pope Francis apologized on Friday for the Roman Catholic Church’s involvement in a system of Canadian boarding schools that abused Indigenous children for 100 years.

“I feel shame… sorrow and shame— for the role” that Catholics played in the abuses you suffered and in the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture, and even your spiritual values,” Francis said.

Francis spoke during an audience at the Apostolic Palace with 62 delegates from Canada’s three largest Indigenous groups.

The Indigenous groups had traveled to the Vatican, hoping that he would apologize to survivors in Canada. 

This was the first apology to the Indigenous people of Canada from a pope.

Francis also promised to travel to Canada around the Feast of St. Anne on July 26.

About 150,000 Indigenous children were separated from their families and sent to these residential schools, where physical and sexual abuse was widespread, along with neglect and disease. 

Whether the Vatican knew about the extent of abuses at the schools while they were open is unclear. 

The Catholic orders that operated them have been slow to open their records to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, an archival and research repository.

Murray Sinclair, the former judge of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, estimated that approximately 6,000 children went missing.

From the 1880s to the 1990s, the Canadian government ran a system of mandatory boarding schools that the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission called a form of ‘cultural genocide.’

The Catholic Church operated about 70 percent of the schools in the system.

Gerald Antoine, the Dene National Chief, said that Indigenous leaders should be a part of the planning of the visit.

Today is a day that we’ve been waiting for certainly one that will be uplifted in our history. It’s a historical first step. However, only a first step. The next step is for the Holy Father to apologize to our family at their home. We seek to hear his words. They also seek the words of apology at home,” Antoine said.

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