World Bulletin / News Desk
“Obviously I’m disappointed with the Catholic Church’s decision not to apologize for their role in residential schools,” said Trudeau.
About 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their parents, sometimes by force, and put in the 130 schools from the 1880s to 1996, when the last facility closed. The idea was, in effect, to stamp out the native culture.
Students were not allowed to speak their own languages or participate in any native cultural activities.
About two-thirds of the schools were run by the Catholic Church and children were often subjected to physical, mental and sexual abuse by priests, nuns and other teachers.
Trudeau and Indigenous leaders have urged the church to formally apologize, as other churches involved in running the schools have done, including the Anglican, United and Presbyterian religious organizations, as well as the government of Canada.
The refusal to apologize came in a letter earlier this week from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops that stated Pope Francis is not turning his back on acknowledging injustices suffered by Indigenous peoples, but that he cannot personally apologize for the role of the church in Canadian residential schools.
There was no specific reason given for refusing to apologize but the letter said the decision was made after consultation with the Catholic Bishops of Canada.
The refusal was met with criticism from other Canadian political leaders, including the Canadian Conservative Party.
“I think that any group or institution that had a significant role in the residential school system should help move past and help get through this period of reconciliation by apologizing for the role they might have played,” Andrew Scheer told reporters Wednesday. Scheer and Trudeau are Catholic.
A papal apology was one of the recommendations put forth by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that delved into the history of the schools and met with survivors to figure out how best to make amends.
The commission cited an apology was issued by the Pope to Irish victims of sexual abuse and another was given to Bolivian Indigenous peoples for the “grave sins” of colonialism.
Pope Benedict XVI expressed his “sorrow” to a group from the Assembly of First Nations in 2009, but Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s Indigenous relations minister, said that does not carry the weight of a formal apology.
“Sorrow is not enough,” she said. “Sorrow is never enough. One has to take responsibility for the harm that was done.”
Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde said he wants to meet face-to-face with France so he can underline the importance of an official apology.
“Hearing an apology directly from Pope Francis would be an important act of healing and reconciliation,” Bellegarde said.