Canada says Pope’s apology to indigenous peoples not enough

The Canadian government says Pope Francis’ apology to indigenous people for their mistreatment at the country’s church boarding schools has not gone far enough.

The government’s official response came when Francis arrived in Quebec to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Mary Simon at her Quebec residence, the hilltop Fort Citadel, during the second leg of Francis’ week-long visit to Canada.

The government’s criticism echoes that of survivors in Francis’ failure to mention the sexual abuse of indigenous children in schools, and his refusal to name the Catholic Church as an institution with any responsibility.

Francis said he is on a “penitent pilgrimage” to redeem the church’s role in the boarding school system, in which generations of indigenous children have been forcibly removed from their homes and forced to attend church-run, state-funded boarding schools in order to assimilate. them into a Christian, Canadian society.


Pope Francis shakes hands with Governor General Maria Simon. (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

The Canadian government said physical and sexual violence was rampant in schools, and students were beaten for speaking their native language.

Francis on Monday apologized for the “evil” of church staff working in the schools and for the “catastrophic” impact the school system had on indigenous families. Speaking to authorities on Wednesday, Francis again apologized and called the school system “deplorable.”

He asked for forgiveness “for the evil done by so many Christians to the native peoples” as well as “to local Catholic institutions.”

But Francis also noted that the school system was “at that time being promoted by the authorities” as part of a policy of assimilation and enfranchisement in which “local Catholic institutions took part.”

Indigenous peoples have long demanded that the pope take responsibility not only for the abuses committed by individual Catholic priests and religious orders, but also for the Catholic Church’s institutional support for assimilation policies and the 15th-century papacy’s religious justification for European colonial expansion to propagate Christianity.

Over 150,000 local children in Canada were taken from their homes from the 19th century until the 1970s and placed in schools to isolate them from the influence of their families and culture.

Mr. 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.

Speaking to Francis, he noted that the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 called on the pope to apologize on Canadian soil, but that Francis’ visit “would not have been possible without the courage and perseverance” of indigenous survivors. Inuit and mestizos who went to the Vatican last spring to seek an apology.

“I apologize for the role that the Roman Catholic Church as an institution has played in the abuse of spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse of indigenous children in boarding schools run by the church,” Trudeau said.

The Canadian government has issued an apology for its role in the school’s legacy. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a formal apology for boarding schools in Parliament in 2008, calling them a sad chapter in Canadian history and saying that the policy of forced assimilation had done great harm.

As part of the settlement of a lawsuit involving the government, churches, and approximately 90,000 surviving students, Canada paid billions of dollars in compensation, which was transferred to First Nations communities.


Pope Francis asked for forgiveness “for the evil done by so many Christians to indigenous peoples” as well as to “local Catholic institutions” (John Locher/AP)

The Catholic Church, for its part, has paid over $50m (£41m) and intends to add another $30m over the next five years.

Mr. Trudeau hinted that much more needed to be done by the church, and that while Francis’ visit had a “tremendous impact” on the survivors, it was only a first step.

Beyond the content of his speech, Mr. Trudeau’s remarks violated the usual protocol for papal travel. According to diplomatic protocol, only Mrs. Simon was to address the Pope as the head of state’s representative.

But the Vatican said Mr Trudeau’s office asked the prime minister to let him 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 Mr. Trudeau usually makes remarks during visits by foreign leaders and that it was important for him to address Canadians during Francis’s visit, “especially given the importance of the issue.”

Before Francis arrived in Quebec, Crown and Indigenous Affairs Minister Mark Miller said the “gaps” in Francis’s apology could not be ignored.

Echoing criticism from some survivors of the school, Mr. Miller noted that Francis did not mention sexual abuse in his list of abuses suffered by Indigenous children in schools.

Francis on Monday listed physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse instead. In addition, Mr. Miller noted that Francis was talking about “evil” committed by individual Christians, “but not about the Catholic Church as an institution.”