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Trudeau slams Catholic Church over Indigenous deaths

June 5, 2021

The Catholic Church is dragging its feet over apologizing and releasing key records on residential schools for Indigenous children, according to Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The pope and Justin Trudeau
Canada's Justin Trudeau said he raised issues on indigenous abuse with Pope Francis in 2017Image: Evandroinetti/ZUMAPRESS/picture alliance

The Vatican needs to "step up and take responsibility" after the remains of 215 Indigenous children were found in unmarked graves at a church-run boarding school in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged on Friday.

The country was left reeling by the discovery at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia at the end of May.

Why is Trudeau criticizing the Catholic Church?

The church has remained silent on key issues, such as issuing an apology and asking for forgiveness, Trudeau told a news conference on Friday.

He also slammed religious leaders for dragging its feet on releasing its records on Church-run Indigenous residential schools.

Despite having raised these issues during trip to the Vatican four years ago, "we're still seeing resistance from the Church," Trudeau said on Friday.

He also warned that the Canadian government could use "stronger measures" if Catholic officials fail to release documents, but he was "very hopeful that religious leaders will understand that this is something they need to participate in."

"As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed by the position that the Catholic Church has taken now and over the past many years," Trudeau added.

Who has taken responsibility for the abuse?

Kamloops was one of more than 100 boarding schools run by the Canadian government and religious institutions from 1840 to 1996.

Their purpose was to "kill the Indian in the child" and assimilate Aboriginal and First Nations children into the dominant European colonialist culture.

Across Canada, more than 150,000 children were removed from their families to be reeducated.

Violence and sexual abuse were common and the children were forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages. Up to 6,000 are said to have died.

Kamloops residents and First Nations people gather to listen to drummers and singers at a memorial for 215 children found near the school
Some 150,000 indigenous children were taken from their families to attend special boarding schools in CanadaImage: Dennis Owen/REUTERS

The United, Presbyterian and Anglican churches already have apologized for their roles in the abuse, as has the Canadian government, which has offered compensation.

With the exception of the Catholic archbishop of Vancouver who apologized on Wednesday, the Roman Catholic Church has been notably silent.

The Vatican has not responded to requests for comment this week about demands for a formal apology from the pope.

In 2018, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops announced that the pope could not personally apologize for the residential schools.

kmm/dj (AFP, AP)