OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) – Canada’s Catholic Bishops on Friday “unequivocally” apologized to Indigenous peoples for suffering in residential schools, as Pope Francis prepares to meet Indigenous leaders at the Vatican later this fall .
Institutions held children taken from families across the country. From the 19th century to the 1970s, more than 150,000 First Nations children had to attend publicly funded Christian schools as part of a program to assimilate them into Canadian society. They were forced to convert to Christianity and were not allowed to speak their native languages. Many have been beaten and verbally assaulted, and up to 6,000 are believed to have died.
Canada’s Catholic Bishops promise to provide materials that could help ‘memorize’ students buried in anonymous graves, work to get the Pope to visit Canada, and raise funds to help fund initiatives recommended by partners local natives.
The church has come under heavy criticism for refusing to provide all documents requested by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and for raising less than a sixth of a fund of C $ 25 million (US $ 19.8 million ) pledged for reconciliation and healing as part of the 2007 Indian Campaign Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
The bishops’ apologies are the latest expression of remorse on the Canadian arms of the Catholic Church, but still fall short of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to the Pope himself to apologize to Canada.
National Indigenous leaders, elders, youth and residential school survivors are due to travel to Rome in mid-December for four days of meetings, some of which hope will be the final precursor to such an apology.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appealed directly to the Pope for the apology during a visit to the Vatican in 2017, but months later Francis let Canadian bishops know he couldn’t personally answer the call.
The Canadian government apologized to Parliament in 2008 and admitted that physical and sexual abuse in schools was rampant. Many students remembered being beaten for speaking their native language. They also lost contact with their parents and their customs.