Canada Says Pope’s Apology to Indigenous Peoples Isn’t Enough
QUEBEC CITY — The Canadian government made clear on Wednesday that Pope Francis’ apology to Indigenous peoples for abuses in the country’s church-run residential schools did not go far enough, suggesting that reconciliation over difficult history is still a challenge. work in progress.
The official government reaction came when François arrived in Quebec for meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Mary Simon at his Quebec residence, the Citadelle perchée fortress, during the second leg of the visit of a week of François in Canada.
The government’s criticisms echo those of some survivors and relate to Francis’ omission of any reference to the sexual abuse suffered by indigenous children in schools, as well as his initial reluctance to name the Catholic Church as a responsible institution.
Francis said he was on a “penitential pilgrimage” to atone for the church’s role in the residential school system, in which generations of Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes and forced to attend boarding schools run by church and government funded to assimilate. in Canadian Christian society. The Canadian government has said physical and sexual abuse is rampant in schools, with students beaten for speaking their native language.
Francis apologized on Monday for the “evil” of church staff who worked in the schools and the “catastrophic” effect of the school system on Indigenous families. In a speech to government officials on Wednesday, Francis again apologized and called the school system “deplorable”.
Francis noted that the school system was “promoted by the government authorities of the time” as part of a policy of assimilation and emancipation. But responding to criticism, he added that “local Catholic institutions had a role” in implementing this policy.
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 institutional support of the Catholic Church for the policy of assimilation and the religious justification of the papacy in the 15th century for European colonial expansion to spread Christianity.
More than 150,000 Aboriginal children in Canada were taken from their homes from the 19th century until the 1970s and placed in schools in an effort to isolate them from the influence of their family and culture.
Trudeau, a Catholic whose father, Pierre Trudeau, was prime minister when the last residential schools were in operation, insisted that the Catholic Church as an institution bore the blame and needed to do more to atone.
Speaking to Francis, he noted that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada had called in 2015 for a papal apology to be delivered on Canadian soil, but that Francis’ visit “would not have been possible without the courage and the perseverance” of First Nations, Inuit and Métis survivors who traveled to the Vatican last spring to make their case for an apology.
“My apologies for the role that the Roman Catholic Church, as an institution, has played in the mistreatment of spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse that Indigenous children suffered in residential schools run by the Church,” Trudeau said.
The Canadian government has apologized for its role in school legacy. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a formal apology for the residential schools in Parliament in 2008, calling them a sad chapter in Canadian history and saying the policy of forced assimilation had done a lot of harm.
As part of the settlement of a lawsuit involving the government, churches and the approximately 90,000 surviving students, Canada paid reparations amounting to billions of dollars transferred to Indigenous communities. The Catholic Church, for its part, has contributed more than $50 million and plans to add another $30 million over the next five years.
Trudeau suggested the Church needed to do much more and that while Francis’ visit had a “huge impact” on survivors, it was only a first step.
Apart from 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 Aboriginal to hold the essentially ceremonial position of governor general, spoke to François.
But the Vatican said Trudeau’s office had asked the prime minister to be allowed to make some introductory remarks, a request that came days before Francis left Rome but after the pope’s itinerary was cleared. 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 address Canadians during François’ visit “especially given the importance of the question”. However, it was added at the last minute.
Prior to Francis’ arrival in Quebec, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said the “gaps” in Francis’ apology could not be ignored.
Echoing criticism from some survivors of the school, Miller noted that Francis did not mention sexual abuse in his list of abuse suffered by Aboriginal children in schools. Francis listed physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse on Monday instead. Further, Miller noted that Francis spoke on Monday of “evil” committed by individual Christians “but not of the Catholic Church as an institution.”
Phil Fontaine, a school sex abuse survivor and former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said Wednesday’s additional reference to “local Catholic institutions” went beyond Francis’ initial apology and was meaningful and meaningful. the closest he could get to apologizing for the entire Church in Canada.
“It reflects the reality that the Catholic Church in Canada is not an institution. It is made up of approximately 73 different legal institutions, all of which were accused in the lawsuits,” Fontaine said in a statement.
Francis’ visit stirred mixed emotions among survivors and their loved ones, as well as among Indigenous leaders and community members. Some have welcomed his apology as genuine and helpful in helping them heal. Others said it was just the first step in a long process of reconciliation. Still others said he did not go far enough in taking responsibility for institutional wrongs stretching back centuries.
Francis himself acknowledged that the wounds will take time to heal and that his visit and apology were only the first steps. On Wednesday, he pledged, along with the local Canadian church, to “move forward in a brotherly and patient journey with all Canadians, in accordance with truth and justice, working for healing and reconciliation, and constantly inspired by hope”.
“It is our desire to renew the relationship between the Church and the Indigenous peoples of Canada, a relationship marked both by a love that has borne exceptional fruit and, tragically, by deep wounds that we are committed to understanding and to heal,” he said.
But he did not list any specific action the Holy See was ready to take.
Trudeau also said the visit was a start and that reconciliation was everyone’s duty. “It is our responsibility to see our differences not as an obstacle but as an opportunity to learn, to understand each other better and to take action.
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