Pope Francis has apologized for the conduct of some members of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada’s residential school system, after a week of talks with First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegations.
Delegates had gathered for a final, public audience with the pope at the Vatican on Friday as Francis spoke of feeling “sorrow and shame” for the conduct of those running the schools.
“I also feel shame…grief and shame for the role that a number of Catholics, especially those with educational responsibilities, have had in all of these things that have hurt you, and the abuses that you have suffered and the lack of respect for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values,” he said.
“For the deplorable conduct of these members of the Catholic Church, I ask God’s forgiveness and want to tell you with all my heart, I am truly sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your forgiveness. “
WATCH | Pope Francis apologizes to Indigenous delegates for ‘deplorable’ abuses at residential schools
Francis also said he hoped to visit Canada “in the days” around the feast of Saint Anne at the church, which falls on July 26.
Dene National Chief Gerald Antoine, who led one of the delegations, said Indigenous leaders should be part of the planning for such a visit.
“Today is a day we have been waiting for and certainly a day that will be elevated in our history,” he said after the meeting.
“This is a historic first step. However, only a first step. The next step is for the Holy Father to apologize to our family at their home. We seek to hear his words. They are also seeking words of apologize at home.”
The apology comes at the end of a week of separate private meetings between First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegations and the pope about the role of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada’s residential school system.
The Inuit delegation had also lobbied for the church to intervene in the case of Fugitive Oblate priest wanted in Canada for sex crimesand First Nations delegates also urged the Pope to revoke centuries-old papal decrees used to justify the seizure of Indigenous lands in the Americas by colonial powers.
Over 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools between the 1880s and 1996, and over 60% of the schools were run by the Catholic Church.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission – which from 2008 to 2015 examined the record of the residential school system in Canada – has called for a papal apology as part of its 94 calls to action. The commission also urged all religious and faith-based groups to reject concepts used to justify European sovereignty over indigenous lands and peoples.
Colleen Jacob, the former chief of the Xaxli’p First Nation in British Columbia, recounted her experience at residential school in a letter to the Pope delivered during her private meeting this week with delegates from the Assembly of First Nations.
Jacob said she still vividly remembers the bus that first picked her up in 1974, when she was just seven years old.
She said she was deposed and separated from her older brother.
“It was a big shock for me because at home I followed him everywhere,” Jacob said. “I would cry when he didn’t take me.”