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Trudeau to seek papal apology for residential schools

Pope Francis meets Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a private audience at the Vatican, May 29, 2017.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is hopeful Pope Francis will heed a personal call to make a formal apology to aboriginal survivors of sexual and physical abuse at Catholic-run residential schools during a private audience with his holiness at the Vatican on Monday.

Mr. Trudeau will use the one-on-one meeting in the Apostolic Palace to request a papal apology and an "open invitation" for the pontiff to visit Canada to address victims of the residential school system.

"The Prime Minister is using this opportunity to talk to the Pope about Indigenous issues and reconciliation and one of the things aboriginal communities want is an apology," a government official said.

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Canadian and Vatican officials have been working behind the scenes to arrange the meeting, which officials say is an opportunity for Pope Francis to make amends for a dark chapter in the Catholic Church's attempt to "Christianize" Canada's First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.

In 2015, former prime minister Stephen Harper met for 10 minutes with Pope Francis at the Vatican and drew his attention to the troubling findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but he stopped short of inviting him to Canada to apologize.

Instead, Mr. Harper referred to a letter sent by his Indigenous affairs minister that simply notified the Vatican that the commission had spoken to thousands of residential students and documented their experiences.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued 94 recommendations, which Mr. Trudeau promised to implement as Liberal leader. A key recommendation was a call for a papal apology to residential school survivors, saying the church-run system sought to remove Indigenous culture, identity and language in what it deplored as "cultural genocide."

The federal government forcibly removed 150,000 aboriginal children from their families over the course of a century, putting them in church-run schools with the goal of assimilation.

In 2009, Pope Benedict offered a personal apology to Phil Fontaine, a residential school survivor and Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. That apology was not accepted by the commission because it was not offered to all victims of residential schools.

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The Trudeau government is optimistic Pope Francis will agree to a formal apology on his next visit to Canada given that the Pontiff has apologized in 2015 for crimes committed by the church against Indigenous peoples in Latin America. The Catholic Church also apologized for victims of sex abuse by priests in Ireland.

The Prime Minister, who is a practising Catholic, also intends to discuss climate change with the Pope as well as the need to promote diversity and respect among the world's religions, an official said.

The Pope is a strong supporter of the Paris climate accord, an issue he raised last week during a meeting at the Vatican with U.S. President Donald Trump. He presented Mr. Trump with a copy of his encyclical on preserving the environment and urged him not to pull the U.S. out of the 2015 Paris emissions treaty.

Mr. Trudeau and other G7 leaders made the same plea to the President at their annual summit in Taormina, Sicily, but were unable to get him sign a final communiqué on Saturday to stay in the Paris accord. Mr. Trump later tweeted that he would make a decision this week on whether the U.S. will exit the 195-country treaty, signed by former U.S. president Barack Obama.

This is not the first time Mr. Trudeau has met a leader of the Catholic Church. When he was nine, he accompanied his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, to the Vatican in 1980 to meet Pope John Paul. Four years later, he saw the Pope again when he visited Montreal.

The Prime Minister is bringing his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, to meet the Pope. The couple, which celebrated their twelfth wedding anniversary on Sunday with a dinner in Rome, will then visit St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel.

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Earlier in the day, Mr. Trudeau and his wife flew by Italian government helicopter from Rome to Amatrice, a small town in the hills of central Italy that was devastated by a massive earthquake in August, 2016. Nearly 300 people died – many of them children – and dozens were injured.

He offered to match dollar for dollar up to $2-million for the Italian Earthquake Fund to help in the rebuilding – money that Mayor Sergio Pirozzi said would go to construct a new town hall in the community of 2,000.

"Being here is an opportunity to share the depths and closeness of the friendship between Canada and Italy," Mr. Trudeau said after touring the red zone in the centre of the flattened town. "It's an opportunity to share our thoughts, our condolences, our sympathies."

Rebuilding efforts have been bogged down with layers of Italian bureaucracy. About 900 people remained in the town, many of them farmers who are living in make shift homes.

"I am very pissed," Mayor Pirozzi said. "I want to get homes built, but it is very slow."

The 6.2-magnitude quake struck in the early morning when most people were sleeping. Roads buckled, homes were flattened and residents were buried under the rubble. Amatrice was one of the hardest-hit towns.

"It is still very painful because my uncle died in the earthquake and my daughter was here," Laura Rocchi said. "For us, it was a tragic and terrible moment."

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About the Author
Ottawa Bureau Chief

Robert Fife is The Globe and Mail's Ottawa Bureau Chief and the host of CTV's "Question Period with The Globe and Mail's Robert Fife." He uncovered the Senate expense scandal, setting the course for an RCMP investigation, audits and reform of Senate expense rules. In 2012, he exposed the E. More


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