By Jill Macyshon and Maggie Parkhill
ROME (CTV Network) — Indigenous delegates travelled from Canada to Rome this week to meet with leaders of the Catholic Church, and First Nation delegates will meet with the Pope on Thursday to invite him to the site of a former residential school in B.C., and to ask for an apology.
A papal apology for the church’s role in facilitating Canada’s residential schools was one of the 94 recommendations outlined by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
Historically, the church has offered sympathy and sorrow for its wrongs, but has often stopped short of offering a clear apology.
In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI apologized to the children who were subject to years of abuse by the church’s predatory priests in Ireland.
“You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry,” he wrote in a pastoral letter. “I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured.”
The TRC referenced this apology in its recommendation that a similar apology be offered by the pope to residential school survivors.
Pope Francis apologized in 2015 for the Church’s treatment of Indigenous peoples in South America during colonization.
“I would also say — and here I wish to be quite clear, as was St. John Paul II — I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offences of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America,” Francis said during a visit to Bolivia, calling the church’s action a sin.
The apology came after Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, defended the colonization of South America in a previous visit to the continent.
In 2018, Bishop Lionel Gendron, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, released a letter to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada saying Pope Francis had not shied away from acknowledging injustices faced by Indigenous peoples around the world, but that he couldn’t personally issue an apology for residential schools.
“The Catholic Bishops of Canada have been in dialogue with the Pope and the Holy See concerning the legacy of suffering you have experienced,” Gendron wrote. “The Holy Father is aware of the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which he takes seriously. As far as call to action 58 is concerned, after carefully considering the request and extensive dialogue with the bishops of Canada, he felt that he could not personally respond.”
But some say Pope Francis’ previous apology to other Indigenous peoples makes them confident he will do so again.
“What he did in Bolivia in 2015, that was a step forward, and there’s absolutely no reason to believe he wouldn’t do the same,” Michael Swan, a Catholic expert at the Catholic Register, told CTV National News.
First Nations delegates are scheduled to speak with the Pope for one hour on Thursday, but it is not yet known whether or not Pope Francis will use this meeting, or his planned trip to Canada, to apologize for the church’s role in Canada’s residential schools.
“The Pope is not trying to keep people in suspense,” Archbishop Donald Bolen of Regina told Evan Solomon of CTV’s Question Period on Tuesday. “The Pope has clearly indicated to the Canadian bishops, ‘You need to take a lead here. You need to take responsibility.’ That’s a message we’ve heard loud and clear from him.”
Bolen said he has offered apologies in public forums as well as private encounters with survivors of residential schools, but said he knows Indigenous people are looking for more.
“There’s a desire from Indigenous peoples that Pope Francis directly with that question, and therefore we facilitated this first encounter where he can hear directly from them and engage in a very personal way,” he said.
If you are a former residential school survivor in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419
Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.
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