The Catholic Church apologized “unequivocally” on Friday to the indigenous peoples of Canada for a century of abuse in residential schools run by the church established by the government to assimilate children into the mainstream.
But indigenous leaders are still waiting for a mea culpa from the Pope himself.
“We, the Catholic bishops of Canada, express our deep regret and unequivocally apologize,” read a statement, in which they said they were “fully committed” to reconciliation.
The move follows recent discoveries, which rocked Canada, of some 1,200 unidentified graves at three sites where indigenous children were forced to attend schools.
In all, some 150,000 Indian, Metis, and Inuit children were enrolled from the late 1800s through the 1990s in 139 of Canada’s residential schools, spending months or years isolated from families.
It also comes less than a week before Canadians mark September 30 as the first National Truth and Reconciliation Day.
NEW: Cda Catholic Bishops on Residential Schools “We, the Catholic Bishops of Canada, express our deep regret and unequivocally apologize.” The Pope will meet with the contingent of the indigenous community in Rome in December. # Bcpoli #cdnpoli @ NEWS1130 #NationalDayforTruthandReconciliation pic.twitter.com/6apl2mupzp
– LizaYuzda (@LizaYuzda) September 24, 2021
The solemn commemoration for the thousands of indigenous children who died or disappeared from schools was established by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said in June that Canadians were “horrified and ashamed of how our country behaved.”
In the statement, the bishops said they “acknowledge the suffering experienced” by indigenous students and the “serious abuses” they inflict on them, including “physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, cultural and sexual abuse” at the hands of principals and teachers. . .
“Many religious communities and Catholic dioceses participated in this system, which led to the suppression of indigenous languages, culture and spirituality, without respecting the rich history, traditions and wisdom of indigenous peoples,” they said.
“We also acknowledge with regret the historical and continuing trauma and the legacy of suffering and challenges faced by indigenous peoples that continue to this day.”
A truth and reconciliation commission concluded that the government’s failed policy amounted to “cultural genocide.”
Today, residential school experiences are blamed for a high incidence of poverty, alcoholism, and domestic violence, as well as high suicide rates, in indigenous communities in Canada.
Searches for more possible graves using ground penetrating radar continue after discoveries in the provinces of British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
Meanwhile, tribes are trying to put together ancient documents that could help identify the deceased in unmarked graves and shed light on the fate of others who never returned home.
The bishops pledged to “provide documentation or records (requested by the tribes) that will assist in the commemoration of those buried in nameless graves.”
Indigenous groups and leaders have also asked for a papal apology for the Church’s role in residential schools, backed by Trudeau, who has said he personally implored Pope Francis to “apologize to Indigenous Canadians on Canadian soil.” .
Indigenous leaders have said that an apology from the church is welcome, but that it would be more meaningful coming from the Pope himself.
A Canadian Indigenous Peoples delegation is scheduled to travel to the Vatican in December to meet with the Pope.
Meanwhile, the bishops said they would work with the Vatican and indigenous leaders to try to schedule a papal visit to Canada “as part of this healing journey.”