Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Harper raises residential schools commission during papal visit

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen meet Pope Francis during a private audience at the Vatican City, June 11,2015.

TONY GENTILE/REUTERS

Stephen Harper raised the issue of Indian residential schools when he met briefly with Pope Francis in Vatican City Thursday‎ but didn't ask the pontiff to apologize for the role the Roman Catholic Church played in running these institutions.

The meeting lasted just 10 minutes, according to the Vatican press pool, and it took place via an interpreter, which means time had to be allotted for translation.

That's short compared to the pontiff's meeting a day earlier with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who spent about 50 minutes talking with the Pope Francis.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Harper had nothing to say after his meeting with the pontiff, the leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, and took no questions from the press.

The Prime Minister's Office said he "drew attention" to a letter that Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt sent to the Vatican regarding the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Mr. Valcourt's letter does not mention the call for a papal apology from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

It merely flags for the Vatican that a report ‎has been issued that makes recommendations.

"Some recommendations relate to the Churches which operated residential schools in Canada‎. I wish to bring these recommendations to the attention of the Holy See," the minister wrote ‎on June 5.

Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which reported in early June, probed what happened at church-run boarding schools for aboriginal children where, the commission said, the goal was eliminating "parental involvement in the intellectual, cultural and spiritual development of aboriginal children."

Among its recommendations is a call for Pope Francis to deliver an apology on Canadian soil for the role the Catholic Church played in colonization and in managing most of the residential schools.

Story continues below advertisement

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair ‎had been publicly calling for Mr. Harper to seek the apology from the pontiff during his trip to Rome.

Mr. Harper's delegation that entered the Vatican numbered more than two dozen including political staffers, MPs and cabinet ministers. Laureen Harper, his wife, was among them, her head covered in black material.

During the visit, the Prime Minister gave Pope Francis a hand-carved stone maple leaf. It comes from the same quarry that supplied the stone for Parliament Hill.

Mr. Harper's office said he conveyed to Pope Francis his "deep concern" with Russian President Vladimir Putin's aggression in Ukraine.

The Prime Minister "also raised the plight of religious minorities at the hands" of Islamic State terrorists.

This visit to Rome is part of the Prime Minister's final international trip before a looming fall election. More than 38 per cent of Canadians count themselves as Catholics, according to a 2013 survey of households.

Story continues below advertisement

The Canadian leader also invited the pontiff to visit Canada in 2017 to celebrate the country's 150th anniversary.

Pope Francis has acquired a reputation as a pontiff with a particular interest in social justice and has not shied away from controversial issues.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has said the pontiff should apologize within one year and on Canadian soil.

"Roman Catholics in Canada and across the globe look to the Pope as their spiritual and moral leader," the report said. "Therefore, it has been disappointing to survivors and others that the Pope has not yet made a clear and emphatic public apology in Canada for the abuses perpetrated in Catholic-run residential schools throughout the country."

Pope Benedict XVI, the predecessor to Pope Francis, issued an apology in 2010 for sexual abuse by priests in Ireland.

The Vatican's diplomatic envoy has said the demand for an apology will be treated as a "high priority."

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Ottawa, Terrence Prendergast, apologized in early June for abuse at residential schools administered by the Catholic Church but, according to Postmedia News, he has said calls for the pontiff to delivery an apology in Canada "is quite an extraordinary thing to demand."‎

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨