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Politics NDP to ask Parliament to call on Pope directly for residential schools apology

The New Democrats will ask Parliament to directly appeal to Pope Francis to come to Canada and apologize for the abuse of Indigenous children at Catholic-run Indian residential schools.

Charlie Angus, an NDP MP who is himself a Catholic, has drafted a new motion that will be put to the House of Commons on Thursday.

It is identical, in most respects, to one Mr. Angus introduced last week that required unanimous consent and was defeated when a few Conservative MPs shouted their opposition. But, while the previous motion asked Parliament to ask the bishops of Canada to invite the pontiff to come to this country to apologize, the new one asks for a direct request to be put the Pope.

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“Why is this so important?” Mr. Angus asked during a news conference on Monday. “Because of what we’ve seen through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s [TRC’s] findings − the horrific death rates of Indigenous children, the horrific levels of abuse that happened in Catholic institutions, and the fact that this was a formal agreement between the federal government and the Catholic Church, working together, to destroy Indigenous identity by the forcible removal of children from their families. ...”

Unlike last week’s motion, the new one does not require the unanimous support of all MPs. And, unlike the previous motion, it will require a debate in Parliament and a recorded vote.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally asked the Pope in 2017 to come to Canada to make an apology so the Liberals, who supported Mr. Angus’s earlier motion, are likely to stand in favour. If that happens, it will be passed by the House.

As with the previous motion, the new motion calls on the church to resume its efforts to raise $25-million for Indigenous healing, as required in the residential schools settlement agreement that came into effect in 2007. That fundraising campaign was abandoned by the Catholic dioceses in Canada in 2015 and just $2.1-million in donations was given to Indigenous causes.

It also calls on the church to hand over any remaining documents that could help survivors of the schools, their families and scholars “understand the full scope of the horrors of the residential school system in the interest of truth and reconciliation.”

Two Roman Catholic bishops held a news conference in Ottawa on the day the previous motion was put before the House of Commons to say Pope Francis may eventually apologize for the role that the church played in the Indian residential schools, but that it was not up to them to tell him what to do.

The bishops suggested, then refuted the suggestion, that the Pope’s refusal last month to meet the terms of TRC’s call for a papal apology may have just been a matter of timing. And they reiterated their position that the church, as a whole, was not to blame for the tragedy of the Indian residential schools.

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The bishops argue there is no legal entity called the Catholic Church in Canada, just individual autonomous dioceses − and it is 50 of those smaller dioceses that were responsible for the harms done in the schools and for making repayments under the settlement agreement with survivors.

Murray Sinclair, who chaired the TRC and is now an independent senator, said after the bishops spoke last week that the Pope’s apology would be important to survivors of Catholic residential schools, to the country, and to those who worked in the schools and did the bidding of their religious masters.

“Now,” said Mr. Sinclair, “for the church to hide behind its legal creations, the various legal congregations, the various legal entities that it created, is a shame.”

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