Pope Francis expressed sorrow Sunday over the discovery last week of 215 children's bodies in unmarked graves at a former Catholic school for indigenous students in Canada but stopped short of apologizing for the Church’s role in the country’s residential school system.
Francis’ remarks came during an address to pilgrims and tourists gathered in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City for his weekly blessing.
“I am following with pain the news that arrives from Canada about the upsetting discovery of the remains of 215 children,” he said.
“I join with the Canadian bishops and the entire Catholic Church in Canada in expressing my closeness to the Canadian people traumatized by the shocking news.
“This sad discovery adds to the awareness of the sorrows and sufferings of the past,” Francis added.
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appealed to Canadian Catholics to demand the Catholic Church apologize for its role in Canada’s residential school system and to make school records public.
Trudeau urged the action following the discovery of the children's bodies at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. The Church ran the school from 1890 to 1969, when the federal government took over its administration and operated it as a day school residence until its closing in 1978. It was one of 139 such schools in Canada.
Around 150,000 indigenous children were taken from their families and forced into the boarding schools beginning in the 1820s. A significant number suffered physical, psychological and sexual abuse. It is estimated that at least 4,000 died and many lie in unmarked graves.
But the Canadian government's hands are not completely clean when it comes to records from the residential schools. Between 1936 and 1944, it is estimated that the government destroyed about 15 tons of documents related to the schools, including about 200,000 Indian Affairs files, CTV News reported.
Other churches have apologized for running some of the schools, including the United Church of Canada, the Presbyterian Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.