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Pope Francis arrives to hold a general audience in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, on Oct. 27, 2021.FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis’s willingness to visit Canada over reconciliation comes after Indigenous survivors have spent years calling for a papal apology on Canadian soil. Popes have visited Canada in the past, though not issued an apology to Indigenous peoples over residential schools. There are recent precedents for apologies, however – Pope Francis apologized for the church’s “crimes” against Indigenous peoples in Bolivia in 2015, and for abuses in Ireland, in 2018.


Pope Benedict XVI expresses “sorrow” over abuses at residential schools, to a delegation from the Assembly of First Nations in a private meeting at the Vatican. The meeting is summarized in a three-paragraph statement from the Vatican. Many survivors, however, say this falls short of a full, public apology that is delivered in Canada.


The Truth and Reconciliation Commission issues its final report that includes 94 calls to action. Number 58 calls upon the Pope to issue an apology to survivors, their families and communities for the Catholic Church’s role “in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools.” This apology, it said, should occur within one year of the issuing of its report and be given by the Pope in Canada.


In a meeting at the Vatican, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally invites the Pope to come to Canada and apologize, as part of reconciliation efforts, in the coming years.


Pope Francis says he will not apologize to residential school survivors and their families for the role the church played in operating the schools. The announcement is made through a letter from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, which said the pope is aware of the TRC’s call to action No. 58, but that he “felt that he could not personally respond” to the request for an apology. Mr. Trudeau says he is “disappointed” at the response; the House of Commons votes overwhelmingly in support of a motion for a papal apology.


Evelyn Kormaz, a residential school survivor who suffered abuse at the St. Anne’s Indian Residential School in Northern Ontario, travels to the Vatican. She is representing Indigenous peoples as part of the group Ending Clergy Abuse and wants to personally ask the Pope to apologize for the abuses her people experienced at the hands of the church. She is not allowed to meet with him and leaves disappointed.


Indigenous leaders and survivors again call on the Pope to make an apology. So do many Catholics, in petitions. In a June address at the Vatican, Pope Francis expresses pain at the news of children’s remains in unmarked graves. He does not, however, apologize. In September, the bishops of Canada “unequivocally” apologize. They don’t say whether they’ve invited the Pope to come to Canada and do so. In October, the Vatican says the CCCB has invited the Pope to come to Canada, in the context of the reconciliation process. The statement doesn’t specifically mention an apology.

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