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Pope asks forgiveness of Indigenous for Canada school abuses

April 1, 2022

The pope has said he was ashamed of the "deplorable" abuses suffered by Indigenous peoples in Canada's residential schools. Members of the Metis, Inuit and First Nations communities came to Rome seeking a papal apology.

The President of the Metis community, Cassidy Caron shows a scarf
The President of the Metis community, Cassidy Caron and Mitchell Case, left, Community-based historian and educator and Region 4 Councillor, Metis Nation of Ontario, show to journalists a pair of traditional Metis pointed-toe style moccasin as a gift to Pope Francis Image: Gregorio Borgia/AP/picture alliance

Pope Francis apologized Friday for the abuses suffered by Indigenous peoples in Canada's residential schools.

He acknowledged that children at the residential schools run by the Catholic Church had suffered "deplorable" abuses. Francis said he was ashamed by and indignant at what had occurred at the residential schools in the past century. 

Residential schools were meant to assimilate Indigenous children with the idea that they would be part of mainstream Canadian society, often against the wishes and will of their parents. 

More than 150,000 native children in Canada were forced to attend the residential from the 1800s until the 1970s. Nearly three-quarters of the 130 residential schools formerly in operation were run by Catholic missionaries.

Hundreds of unmarked graves were uncovered last year on the sites of former residential schools.

What did Pope Francis say?

At the Vatican, Francis made his apology to an audience of dozens of members of the Metis, Inuit and First Nations communities who were in Rome to receive a papal apology and commitments from the Catholic Church.

All three groups met privately with Pope Francis over several hours earlier in the week, seeking to share stories of the loss and abuse that their communities had encountered.

"I want to tell you from my heart that I am greatly pained," Francis said. "And I unite myself with the Canadian bishops in apologizing."

Francis made the apology in Italian while vowing to visit Canada, though he did not specify a date.  Reuters reports that trip is likely this summer.

When Francis concluded, the audience at the Vatican stood to applaud.

The Canadian government has previously apologized for the wrongs and abuses suffered by children forced to attend residential schools, where students could be beaten for merely speaking their native languages.

'A step forward' — Trudeau

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed the pontiff's apology but said there was still more to be done.

"Today's apology is a step forward in acknowledging the truth of our past in order to right historical wrongs, but there's still work to be done," Trudeau said.

"We look forward to him coming to Canada to deliver that apology in person," the prime minister added.

Trudeau said the apology would not have happened had it not been for the "long advocacy of survivors" who had to relive their painful memories.

ar,kb/rt (AP, Reuters)