On Sunday morning, Pope Francis expressed his “pain” at the news of the discovery of the remains of 215 indigenous minors in a boarding school in the country. The announcement comes after the Canadian prime minister called on the Catholic Church to take responsibility for the events.
As part of his weekly blessing in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said he felt pain at “the news that comes from Canada about the disturbing discovery of the remains.” In addition, he added: “I join the Canadian bishops and the entire Catholic Church in Canada in expressing my closeness to the Canadian people traumatized by the shocking news.”
These difficult moments are a strong call to all to move away from the colonizing model and walk side by side, in dialogue, in mutual respect and in the recognition of the rights and cultural values of all the daughters and sons of Canada.
– Pope Francis (@Pontifex_es) June 6, 2021
However, he did not apologize for the fact that it directly implicates the Catholic Church. The Kamloops Indian Residential School, where the remains were found, was the largest facility of its kind in Canada and was run by the institution between 1890 and 1969.
A few days earlier, Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, had directly addressed the Pope asking him to “step forward” and urging him to take responsibility.
“As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed in the position the Catholic Church has taken now and for the past few years,” Trudeau said. On the other hand, he referred to the visit he made several years ago to the Vatican where he asked the Pope to move forward “in apologizing, asking for forgiveness, restoring, making these records available.”
On the other hand, when the Pope’s statements were released, some indigenous leaders in Canada expressed their discontent. “We are all hurt and saddened. Who isn’t? This is a global sham,” Bobby Cameron, head of the Saskatchewan Federation of Sovereign Indian Nations, told Reuters.
Many of the indigenous leaders and survivors of Kamloops agreed that what the Pope said is not enough and that they await a formal apology. “The Pope will not say, ‘You know what? I heard there were (thousands of) cases of physical and sexual abuse in those residential schools run by our church.’ He will not say that,” said Saa Hiil Thut, one of the survivors.
Why is the Church held accountable?
For over a hundred years, until 1970, 150,000 indigenous children were forced to attend schools like the one in Kamloops that were funded by the state and that sought to assimilate them into Canadian society.
In these places, children were forced to give up their beliefs and languages, replacing them with the Christian faith and official languages such as English and French. The Canadian government has admitted that these schools even led to physical and sexual abuse.
In the process, many of the children, who were primarily of the Intuit and Métis ethnic groups, were buried in nameless graves.
As a result of these events, the Canadian government decided in 2008 to create a body called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which sought testimonies about indigenous internees and really clarify what happened in those places.
In the report published by the Commission, he declared that a cultural genocide was committed. They also found that more than 4,100 children died while attending those schools. However, it appears that the 215 bodies discovered were not included in the count.
Likewise, the body made 94 recommendations, including an apology from the Pope. But, despite the new discoveries, this has not been formally made.
The Pope and apologies to indigenous communities
Although the Pope has not given a direct apology, it is not the first time that the pontiff refers to the abuses committed by the Church to indigenous communities in various countries.
In fact, in his visit to Bolivia in 2015, he directly apologized to the communities for “many grave sins (that) were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God.”
This being the case, both the Canadian government and indigenous groups are still waiting. But, for now, there is no date for a papal visit to the community.
With Reuters and AP