The Canadian government has made it clear that Pope Francis’ apology to indigenous peoples for abuses at the country’s church-run residential schools did not go far enough.
Canada’s government made clear Wednesday that Pope Francis’ apology to indigenous peoples for abuse at local church boarding schools did not go far enough, suggesting reconciliation over a troubled history is still very much a work in progress.
The official government response came as Francis arrived in Quebec City to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Mary Simon at her Quebec residence, the Citadelle hilltop fortress, on the second leg of Francis’ week-long visit to Canada.
The government’s criticism echoes that of survivors, and concerns Francis’ omission of any mention of the sexual abuse of indigenous children in schools, as well as his refusal to name the Catholic Church as an institution bearing any responsibility.
Francis said he is on a penitential pilgrimage to atone for the church’s role in the residential school system, in which generations of aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their homes and forced to attend church-run, government-funded boarding schools to assimilate them into Christian, Canadian society. The Canadian government says physical and sexual abuse is rampant in schools, and students are beaten for speaking their native language.
Francis apologized on Monday for the evil of church personnel who worked in schools and for the disastrous impact of the school system on indigenous families. In a speech outside government offices on Wednesday, Francis apologized again and described the school system as deplorable.
He asked for forgiveness for the wrongs committed by so many Christians against indigenous peoples and local Catholic institutions.
But Francis also noted that the school system was supported by government authorities at the time as part of a policy of assimilation and enfranchisement that involved local Catholic institutions.
Indigenous peoples have long demanded that the Pope take responsibility not only for abuses committed by individual Catholic priests and religious orders, but also for the Catholic Church’s institutional support of assimilationist policies and the papacy’s religious justification for European colonial expansion to spread Christianity in the 15th century.
More than 150,000 Aboriginal children in Canada were taken from their homes and placed in schools from the 1800s to the 1970s in an attempt to isolate them from the influence of their families and culture.
Trudeau, a Catholic whose father, Pierre Trudeau, was prime minister when the last boarding schools were in operation, insisted that the Catholic Church as an institution bears the blame and must do more to atone.
In his speech before Francis, he noted that Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission had called for a papal apology on Canadian soil in 2015, but that Francis’ visit would not have been possible without the courage and perseverance of First Nations, Inuit and Metis survivors who traveled last spring to the Vatican to ask for an apology.
I am sorry for the role the Roman Catholic Church as an institution played in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse Aboriginal children suffered in church-run institutional schools, Trudeau said.
The Canadian government has apologized for its role in the school’s legacy. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper formally apologized for the boarding schools in Parliament in 2008, calling them a sad chapter in Canadian history and saying the policy of forced assimilation had caused great damage.
As part of the settlement of a lawsuit involving the government, churches and some 90,000 surviving students, Canada paid billions of dollars in reparations transferred to indigenous communities. The Catholic Church has paid over $50 million and plans to add another $30 million over the next five years.
Trudeau indicated that the church needed to do much more, and that while Francis’ visit had a huge impact on survivors, it was just the first step.
In addition to the content of his speech, Trudeau’s remarks broke the usual protocol for papal trips. According to diplomatic protocol, only Simon was supposed to address the Pope in his capacity as representative head of state. Simon, an Inuk who is the first indigenous person to hold the largely ceremonial post of governor-general, addressed Francis. CQ
But the Vatican said Trudeau’s office had asked the prime minister to make some opening remarks, a request that came days before Francis left Rome but after the pope’s itinerary had been finalized and printed.
A senior Canadian government official said Trudeau usually delivers remarks during visits by foreign leaders and that it was important for him to reach out to Canadians during Francis’ visit, especially given the importance of the issue. However, it was added at the last minute.
Before Francis arrived in Quebec City, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said the gaps in Francis’ apology could not be ignored.
Echoing criticism from some school survivors, Miller noted that Francis did not mention sexual abuse in his list of abuses of Aboriginal children in schools. Francis on Monday instead cited physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse. In addition, Miller noted that Francis spoke of the evils committed by individual Christians, but not by the Catholic Church as an institution.