Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Yesterday, on his fourth day in Canada, Pope Francis moved a little further along the accountability spectrum hinting at what residential school survivors still wait to hear: That the Catholic Church as an institution did harm systemically.
“In that deplorable system promoted by the government authorities of the time, which separated so many children from their families, different local Catholic institutions played a part. For this reason, I express my deep shame and sorrow…” said the Holy Father, his words translated into English and French on large screens both in the Citadelle and on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City.
The Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement of 2006 was signed by the Roman Catholic Entities, one of four religious authorities. It lists 47 Catholic entities, which could be viewed as “local Catholic institutions.”
However, the Pope went on to single out “so many Christians” for their wrong-doings, similar to the words he used in his official apology at Maskwacis, in Alberta on July 25.
The Holy Father’s address yesterday followed the strong words spoken by both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Mary Simon.
Both Trudeau and Simon opened their addresses by acknowledging and thanking the First Nations for welcoming them on their traditional territory. Simon emphasized that all of Canada is Indigenous land.
Trudeau referenced the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report which included as one of its 94 Calls to Action that the Pope come to Canada “….to apologize for the role the Roman Catholic Church as an institution played in the abuse—the spiritual abuse, cultural abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse—of Indigenous children in church-run residential schools.”
Both Trudeau and Simon quoted the Pope back to himself.
Trudeau stated, “As your Holiness has said, begging pardon is not the end of the matter; it is a starting point, the first step.”
“On Monday, you (the Pope) visited the Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples in Edmonton. There you said that reconciliation is a grace that must be sought. To that I would also add that reconciliation is a grace that must be earned through continuous hard work and understanding,” said Simon.
She said that supports, such as mental health resources, helping families deal with their loved ones who never made it home from residential schools, and helping survivors process the Pope’s visit and apology, were needed.
“As you indicated, your Holiness, this is an important step towards further dialogue and actions that will lead to real reconciliation. Indeed, we look forward to hearing more of the church’s future actions to continue this essential work,” said Simon.
The Pope reiterated that the church would take concrete actions but continued to offer no details.
For the first time, however, he did commit to working in the “spirit of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” and responding in a “fitting way” to the Calls to Action from the TRC on the legacy of residential schools.
Following the Pope’s apology earlier this week, former chair of the TRC and retired senator, Murray Sinclair issued a statement critical of the apology.
“Despite this historic apology, the Holy Father’s statement has left a deep hole in the acknowledgement of the full role of the Church in the Residential School system, by placing blame on individual members of the Church,” Sinclair wrote. “It is important to underscore that the Church was not just an agent of the state, nor simply a participant in government policy, but was a lead co-author of the darkest chapters in the history of this land.”
The Calls to Action also direct the Catholic Church to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius, both of which helped Europeans justify taking the lands from Indigenous peoples. The Pope has yet to do that.
This morning, the Pope delivered a mass at Ste. Anne de-Beaupre in Quebec City.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.