Canada says Pope’s apology to Indigenous children not enough

The Trudeau administration’s criticisms echo those of the survivors, alleging Francis’s omission of any reference to the sexual abuse of indigenous children in schools

The Trudeau administration’s criticisms echo those of the survivors, alleging Francis’s omission of any reference to the sexual abuse of indigenous children in schools

The Canadian government made it clear on Wednesday, July 27, 2022, that Pope Francis’ apology to indigenous peoples for abuse in the country’s church-run residential schools did not go far enough, suggesting that reconciliation over its fraught history is still a work in progress. .

The official government response came as Francis arrived in Quebec City to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Mary Simon at her Quebec residence, the hilltop Citadelle Fort, during the second leg of Francis’ week-long visit to Canada. .

Also read: Remains of 215 children found in closed boarding school in Canada

The government’s criticisms echo those of the survivors and include the omission of any reference to Francis’ sexual abuse of indigenous children in the schools, as well as his refusal to name the Catholic Church as an institution bearing any responsibility.

Francis has said he is on a “penitent 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 into church-run, government-funded boarding schools to assimilate them into Christian, Canadian society. The Canadian government has said that physical and sexual abuse was rampant in the schools, with students being beaten for speaking their native language.

Francis on Monday, July 25, 2022, apologized for the “bad” church personnel working in the schools and the “catastrophic” effect of the school system on indigenous families. In a speech to government authorities on Wednesday, Francis again apologized and labeled the school system “deplorable”.

He asked forgiveness “for the injustice done by so many Christians to indigenous peoples” and also to “local Catholic institutions”.

But Francis also noted that the school system was “promoted by government authorities at the time” as part of a policy of assimilation and suffrage, in which “local Catholic institutions played a role.”

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 Catholic Church’s institutional support for assimilation policies and the 15th-century religious justification of the papacy for the European colonial expansion to spread Christianity.

More than 1.5 lakh children isolated

More than 150,000 Indigenous children in Canada were taken from their homes and placed in schools from the 1800s to the 1970s in an effort to isolate them from the influence of their families and culture.

Mr. Trudeau, a Catholic whose father, Pierre Trudeau, was Prime Minister while the last residential schools were in operation, insisted that the Catholic Church as an institution be blamed and must do more to atone.

Speaking for Francis, he noted that in 2015, the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission had called for a papal apology on Canadian soil, but that Francis’ visit “would not have been possible without the courage and perseverance” of survivors of the war. First Nations, Inuit and Metis who traveled to the Vatican last spring to apologize.

“Apologies for the role the Roman Catholic Church, as an institution, played in the mistreatment of the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse suffered by indigenous children in church-run residential schools,” said Mr. Trudeau. .

The Canadian government has apologized for its role in the school’s legacy. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper formally apologized for the residential schools in parliament in 2008, calling them a sad chapter in Canadian history and saying the policies of forced assimilation were wreaking havoc.

As part of a settlement of a lawsuit involving the government, churches and the approximately 90,000 surviving students, Canada paid billions of dollars of reparations that were handed over to indigenous communities. The Catholic Church, for its part, has paid more than $50 million and plans to add $30 million more over the next five years.

Mr. Trudeau suggested that much more needed to be done by the church, and that while Francis’s visit had “a huge impact” on the survivors, it was only a first step.

Aside from the content of his speech, Mr. Trudeau’s comments broke customary protocol for papal travel. Under diplomatic protocol, only Simon was allowed to address the Pope in her capacity as representative head of state. Simon, an Inuk who is the first indigenous person to hold the largely ceremonial position of governor general, addressed Francis. CQ But the Vatican said Mr Trudeau’s office asked the Prime Minister to make some preliminary remarks, a request that came in the days before Francis left Rome but after the Pope’s itinerary was finalized and printed.

A senior Canadian government official said Mr Trudeau typically makes remarks during visits by foreign leaders and that it was important for him to address Canadians during Francis’s visit “particularly given the importance of the matter”. However, it was added at the last minute.

Before Francis arrived in Quebec City, Crown Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said the “gaps” in Francis’s apology could not be ignored.

Echoing criticism from some of the school’s survivors, Mr. Miller noted that Francis did not include sexual abuse in his list of abuses that Indigenous children endure in the schools. Francis on Monday instead listed physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse. In addition, Miller noted that Francis spoke of “evil” committed by individual Christians “but not of the Catholic Church as an institution.”

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