Skip to main content

Pope apologizes for church's role in residential schools

Pier Paolo Cito

The Pope expressed sorrow on behalf of the Catholic Church for the "deplorable conduct" of some of its members at Canada's Indian residential schools during a private, half-hour meeting at the Vatican with Canadian bishops and native leaders.

The Canadian representatives described the expression of sorrow as an apology, even though that exact word does not appear in the Vatican's public statement.

Those in the room Wednesday said that they were struck by the depth of Pope Benedict XVI's knowledge of what happened in Canada and the forceful way he spoke against the abuses. While the meeting was private, the Pope acknowledged the delegation of Canadian aboriginals during a general audience address to thousands of people gathered outdoors at the Vatican.

Story continues below advertisement

Phil Fontaine, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, led the delegation and delivered a statement to the Pope about the schools. "I sensed his anguish and pain. He acknowledged our suffering and that is important to me and that was what I was looking for," Mr. Fontaine told a news conference. "We heard him speak about the pain and suffering of so many for so many years, and to also speak about the abuses that were inflicted on so many people and to acknowledge the role of the Catholic church."





The Vatican issued a two-paragraph statement on its website.

"Given the sufferings that some indigenous children experienced in the Canadian residential school system, the Holy Father expressed his sorrow at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the church and he offered his sympathy and prayerful solidarity," the statement read. "His Holiness emphasized that acts of abuse cannot be tolerated in society. He prayed that all those affected would experience healing, and he encouraged First Nations peoples to continue to move forward with renewed hope."

Nearly 75 per cent of the residential schools that operated in Canada from the 1880s to the 1970s were run by Catholic Church missionary congregations. Churches received federal funding on a per student basis to run the schools and implement federal government policies aimed at assimilating aboriginals into the Christian European majority.

Before his trip, Mr. Fontaine had called a Catholic apology "the missing piece," because the other churches involved in the schools had already apologized. Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized on behalf of the Canadian government last June.



The Catholic entities involved with the schools issued two written apologies in 1991. The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate apologized in a four-page letter for the physical and sexual abuse as well as for the very existence of the schools. The letter said the system was inspired by a "European superiority complex" that dismissed native spiritual practices as "pagan and superstitious."

Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl, whose department funded the $95,000 trip by the aboriginal delegation, called the Vatican's expression of regret a very significant step.

Story continues below advertisement

Canada's Conservative government completed an out-of-court settlement with former residential school students in 2006 that will provide billions in compensation. The settlement also called for a five-year truth and reconciliation commission that would tour the country and compile the official history of the schools.

Disagreements over process led to the resignations of all three original commissioners and the project is essentially on hold. "I'm hopeful, very soon, to be able to announce some new commissioners," Mr. Strahl said.

With a report from Reuters in Vatican City

Report an error
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter