Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was disappointed by the refusal of Pope Francis to personally apologise for the role of the Catholic Church in abuse suffered by tens of thousands of Indigenous children at Canada’s infamous Indian residential schools.
“Obviously I’m disappointed with the Catholic Church’s decision not to apologise for their role in residential schools,” Trudeau told reporters, adding that he would continue pressing the pontiff for an apology.
It is estimated that more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children were separated from their families and forced into residential schools run by the Catholic and Anglican churches on behalf of the federal government over much of the last century.
It was part of a deliberate policy of forced assimilation to “take the Indian out of the child.”
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has called it “a cultural genocide.”
A papal apology was one of the 94 Calls to Action recommended by the commission on the road to reconciliation between Canada and its Indigenous population in 2015.
However, a letter released Tuesday by the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) said Pope Francis could not personally apologise for residential schools.
“The Holy Father is aware of the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which he takes seriously,” said the letter from Bishop Lionel Gendron, president of the CCCB.
“As far as Call to Action #58 is concerned, after carefully considering the request and extensive dialogue with the Bishops of Canada, he [Francis] felt that he could not personally respond.”
Ted Quewezance, who was abused while attending a Catholic residential school, told CBC News he was disgusted with the pontiff’s stance.
“They haven’t changed their position from day one. And they never will. The only thing [the Church] could say is sorry he got caught, that’s all,” said Quewezance.
“They know they did wrong. When you do wrong, you apologise.”
The pontiff’s refusal to extend a personal apology has perplexed many Canadian Catholics, especially since Pope Francis has extended similar apologies for the treatment of Indigenous people in Latin America, as well as
to victims of sexual abuse in Ireland.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said he too would be writing to Pope Francis to seek a meeting to discuss an apology