OTTAWA, Ontario — Pope Francis will not apologize to Canadian residential school survivors and their families for the role the Roman Catholic Church played in operating the schools or the abuses suffered by their students.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday he was disappointed by the Catholic church’s decision.
Some 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children were taken from their families over much of the last century and put in the schools, where they were forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages. Many were beaten and verbally and sexually abused, and up to 6,000 are said to have died. Almost two-thirds of the 130 schools were run by the Catholic church.
Bishop Lionel Gendron, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Wednesday in a letter to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada that Francis has not shied away from acknowledging injustices faced by indigenous peoples around the world, but that he can’t personally issue an apology for residential schools in Canada.
“The Catholic Bishops of Canada have been in dialogue with the Pope and the Holy See concerning the legacy of suffering you have experienced,” Gendron wrote. “After carefully considering the request and extensive dialogue with the bishops of Canada, he felt that he could not personally respond.”
A papal apology was one of the 94 recommendations from a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada. Trudeau had also asked the pope to apologize during a visit to the Vatican last year.
“Obviously I am disappointed with the Catholic church’s decision,” Trudeau said. “We know that taking responsibility for past mistakes and asking forgiveness is something that is core to our values as Canadians.”
The Canadian government apologized for the schools in 2008, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was born out of a negotiated settlement agreement that included compensation for survivors.
Gendron says the pope has not ruled out a visit to Canada and a meeting with indigenous peoples, but in the meantime is encouraging Canadian bishops to continue working with indigenous peoples on reconciliation issues and projects that help with healing.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said in a statement he has written to Francis urging him to come to Canada and meet indigenous peoples.
“Hearing an apology directly from Pope Francis would be an important act of healing and reconciliation,” Bellegarde said.
Canadian Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said Canada won’t give up on the idea yet.