Pope’s apology fails to acknowledge church’s role as ‘co-author’ of Dark Chapter: Murray Sinclair


Former Manitoba senator who chaired Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission says there’s a ‘deep hole’ in Pope Francis’ apology on Monday for role Catholics played in residential school system from Canada.

Murray Sinclair says the historic apology, while meaningful to many residential school survivors and their families, fell short of call to action 58 in the final report.

He specifically called on the pope to apologize “for the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children in Catholic residential schools.”

In a written statement Tuesday, Sinclair said the intent was for survivors to hear not just remorse, “but an acceptance of responsibility for what they suffered at the hands of the church and other institutions. “.

While he called it a “historic apology”, he said the pope’s statement “left a deep hole in the recognition of the full role of the church in the residential school system, placing the blame on individual members of the church”.

Pope Francis apologized Monday in Alberta at the site of the former Ermineskin residential school, one of the largest in Canada, as he began what he called his “penitential pilgrimage.”

Pope Francis bows his head during a service at the Church of the Sacred Heart of First Peoples in Edmonton on Monday as part of his papal tour across Canada. He apologized for the role of many Christians in residential schools, which doesn’t go far enough, Sinclair says. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

“I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the way in which many members of the Church and religious communities cooperated, notably through their indifference, in the projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of the time. , which culminated in the residential school system,” he said.

Sinclair said it’s important to emphasize that the Catholic Church was not just an agent of the state, but “a primary co-author of the darkest chapters in the country’s history.”

Sinclair says Catholic leaders who were guided by the Doctrine of Discovery — a 15th-century papal edict that justified colonial expansion by allowing Europeans to claim Indigenous lands as their own — as well as other beliefs and policies of the church enabled the Government of Canada and pushed further in its work to commit what the TRC called cultural genocide perpetrated against Indigenous peoples in Canada.

It was often “not just a collaboration, but an incitement,” he said.

“There are clear examples in our history where the Church has called on the Government of Canada to be more aggressive and bold in its work to destroy traditional Indigenous culture, practices and beliefs,” Sinclair’s statement said.

“It was more than the work of a few bad actors – it was a concerted institutional effort to remove children from their families and cultures, all in the name of Christian supremacy.”

It’s time to act

Sinclair says reconciliation requires action and the Catholic Church must work to help restore the culture, beliefs and traditions destroyed by assimilation.

“For the children and descendants of survivors, it is not enough that you have stopped abusing them,” he said. Rather, the church must help them recover and “along with a pledge never to do it again.”

Students and staff at the Fort Alexander boarding school are shown in a file photo. Sinclair says there are clear examples in Canadian history where the Church has called on the Government of Canada to be more aggressive in its work to destroy traditional Indigenous culture, practices and beliefs. (Archives National Truth and Reconciliation Commission)

The Pope will continue his pilgrimage throughout the week to meet First Nations, Métis and Inuit survivors from Quebec and Nunavut. Sinclair hopes the pontiff takes his words to heart.

“There is a better way that the Church — and indeed all Canadians — can follow: take responsibility for past actions and resolve to do better in this journey of reconciliation.


Support is available to anyone affected by their residential school experience or recent reports.

A National Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line has been established to provide support to former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis hotline: 1-866-925-4419.

Mental health counseling and crisis support is also available 24/7 through the Hope for Wellness Helpline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.