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After a government-funded report said that Native American children were sexually abused and physically oppressed at the mostly Catholic-run schools, Francis apologized to the abuse victims. On Monday, Pope Francis apologized on Canadian soil, speaking in Maskwacis, Alberta, for Catholic officials’ physical and sexual abuse of Indigenous children in residential schools. The apologies came years after a commission found that children had been abused.
Canadian Setting to Express Remorse
The Pope apologized for the evil committed by many Christians around the former Ermineskin Indian Residential School. Ground-penetrating radar uncovered unmarked burials of students who died while attending the school.
It is unknown how many children died at the schools. Still, thousands probably perished.
More than 150,000 Native children have been torn away from their families and placed in 139 government-run residential schools. They were forced to abandon their culture and adopt Christianity between the 17th and 20th centuries. Although the Catholic Church ran most of the schools, there were Protestant and government-run schools.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of 2015, reported stories of survivors revealed casualties of sexually and physically abused children who died in the schools in numbers unacceptable in any country.
The report said they built the schools to protect Indigenous children from their culture and heritage. ‘Cultural Genocide’ was the best term to describe the endeavor.
According to government statistics, 4,120 children died in school custody, mostly from rampant diseases such as tuberculosis. However, the commission’s report estimated the exact amount to be much higher. The statement “it is not likely ever to be known” describes the actual number.
In 2016, the unmarked graves of 215 Kamloops Indian Residential School students were found on land once occupied by the school. In the 1950s, 500 students were enrolled in the school.
Frustration with the Church Despite Pope’s Apology
In January, Pope Francis expressed the Catholic Church’s disgraceful action and violation of the dignity of the Indigenous people’s culture. Measures had been “disgraceful” and “violated the dignity of the cultures and the values of the Indigenous peoples.”
The Canadian government has already paid $90 million to some 90,000 survivors of Canada’s residential schools, and more money is expected to flow. Canada’s Catholic Church religious orders and dioceses already paid $50 million, with an additional $30 million to come soon.
Over 350 off-reservation schools — about one-third administered by various Christian denominations — once operated in the United States until the last one was shut down in 1975. They sent children of Indigenous descent to these schools a century before – where they were forbidden to speak their native language and forced to use English instead.
Pope Francis’ Visit
Pope Francis’ visit is an acknowledgment of the hurt caused by the Catholic Church that ran most of the schools in Canada in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Pope’s trip is a departure from the usual papal travel plans, in which celebration and evangelization are at the fore. He landed in Edmonton Sunday for a brief ceremony, where he was greeted by Indigenous music. On Monday morning, he made no remarks when he landed in Maskwacis, an Indigenous community on the Alberta prairie between Edmonton and Calgary.
Some survivors insisted that those words weren’t enough. They wanted the Pope to address the Catholic Church’s complicity. However, Francis’s remarks Monday echoed the earlier apology in that they condemned the deeds of individuals in the church rather than the institution itself. The Pope apologized for the church’s part in cultural eradication and forced assimilation programs.
Pope Francis has issued several apologies during his papacy, the most recent Monday. He has admitted his mistakes in handling sexual abuse in the church, most notably in a 2018 letter to Chilean bishops. During an Irish national dialogue on clerical abuse the following year, Pope Francis apologized for using power and sexual abuse. He said he wanted forgiveness for the church and religious groups collaborating in cultural destruction and forced assimilation.
Written by Janet Grace Ortigas
NPR: The pope’s apology in Canada was historic, but for some Indigenous people, not enough; by Scott Nueman
WUFT: The pope’s apology in Canada was historic, but for some Indigenous people, not enough
The Washington Post: Pope apologizes for ‘evil committed by so many Christians’ in Canada’s residential schools; by Chico Harlan and Amanda Coletta