Quebec City (AFP) – The Canadian government clarified on Wednesday that Pope Francis has apologized to indigenous peoples. About abuses in the country’s church-run boarding schools did not go far enough, indicating that reconciliation over the fraught history is still in the works.
The official government reaction came when Francis arrived in Quebec City for meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor-General Marie Simon at her Quebec residence, the hilltop Citadel Castle, on the second leg of Francis’ week-long visit to Canada.
Government criticism resonates with some survivors It relates to Francis’ omission of any reference to the sexual abuse that Aboriginal children suffered in schools, as well as his original reluctance to name the Catholic Church as an institution with responsibility.
Francis said he was on a “repentant pilgrimage” to atone for the church’s role in the residential school system, where generations of Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their homes and forced to attend church-run and government-funded boarding schools to accommodate them. them in the Canadian Christian community. The Canadian government said physical and sexual abuse is rampant in schools, with students being beaten for speaking their native languages.
Francis on Monday apologized for the “evil” of church staff who worked in the schools and for the “disastrous” impact of the school system on Indigenous families. In a speech to government authorities Wednesday, Francis again apologized and criticized the school system as “unfortunate”.
Francis noted that the school system was “reinforced by governmental authorities at the time” as part of a policy of inclusion and disenfranchisement. But in response to the criticism, he added that “local Catholic institutions have a role” in implementing the policy.
Indigenous peoples have long demanded that the Pope be held responsible not only for abuses by individual Catholic priests and religious orders, but for the Catholic Church’s institutional support for the Pope’s policy of assimilation and religious justification in the fifteenth century for European colonial expansion to spread Christianity.
More than 150,000 Aboriginal children in Canada were taken from their homes from the 19th century through the 1970s and placed in schools in an effort to isolate them from the influence of their families and culture.
Trudeau, a Catholic whose father, Pierre Trudeau, was prime minister while running recent boarding schools, insisted that the Catholic Church as an institution was to blame and needed to do more to atone.
Speaking before Francis, he noted that in 2015 the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission had called for a papal apology on Canadian soil, but that Francis’ visit “would not have been possible without the courage and perseverance” of First Nations survivors, Inuit and Metis who traveled to the Vatican last spring to lobby In order to make an apology.
“We apologize for the role the Roman Catholic Church, as an institution, played in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse suffered by Indigenous children in Church-run boarding schools,” Trudeau said.
The Canadian government has apologized for its role in the school’s legacy. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an official apology to the boarding schools in Parliament in 2008, calling them a sad chapter in Canadian history and saying the policy of forced assimilation had caused great harm.
As part of settling a lawsuit involving the government, churches and nearly 90,000 students alive, Canada has paid billions of dollars in damages to be transferred to Aboriginal communities. The Catholic Church, for its part, has paid out more than $50 million and plans to add another $30 million over the next five years.
Trudeau noted that the church needed to do more, and that while Francis’ visit had a “tremendous impact” on survivors, it was only a first step.
Regardless of the content of his speech, Trudeau’s remarks violated the usual protocol of papal trips. According to diplomatic protocol, Simon was only supposed to address the Pope as the head of state’s representative. Simon, an Enoch and the first indigenous person to hold the largely ceremonial position of governor-general, addressed Francis.
But the Vatican said Trudeau’s office had requested that the prime minister be allowed to make some introductory notes, a request that arrived in the days before Francis left Rome but after the Pope’s itinerary had been completed and printed.
A senior Canadian government official said Trudeau usually makes remarks during visits by foreign leaders and that it is important for him to address Canadians during Francis’ visit “especially given the importance of the matter”. However, it was added at the last minute.
Before Francis arrived in Quebec City, Crown and Indigenous Relations Minister Mark Miller said the “gaps” in Francis’ apology could not be ignored.
Echoing criticism from some survivors of the school, Miller noted that Francis did not mention sexual abuse in the list of abuses Aboriginal children suffered in schools. On Monday, Francis listed instead physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse. In addition, Miller noted that on Monday, Francis spoke of “evil” committed by individual Christians “but not the Catholic Church as an institution.”
Phil Fontaine, a survivor of school sexual abuse and former national president of the Assembly of First Nations, said Wednesday’s additional reference to “local Catholic institutions” went beyond Francis’ original apology and was significant and the closest he could come to an apology to the entire church in Canada.
“It reflects the fact that the Catholic Church in Canada is not a single institution. It is made up of approximately 73 different legal institutions, all of whom are accused in the lawsuits,” Fontaine said in a statement.
Francis’ visit sparked mixed feelings among the survivors and their relatives, as well as Aboriginal leaders and community members. Some have welcomed his apology as genuine and helpful in helping them heal. Others said it was just the first step in a long process of reconciliation. Still others say it hasn’t gone far enough in taking responsibility for centuries-old institutional errors.
Francis himself has admitted that wounds will take time to heal and that his visit and his apology are only first steps. On Wednesday, he committed himself and the local Canadian church “to move forward on a fraternal and patient journey with all Canadians, in accordance with truth and justice, working for healing and reconciliation, and always inspired by hope.”
“We desire a renewal of the relationship between the Church and the indigenous peoples of Canada, a relationship marked by both love that has yielded wonderful fruit, and tragically deep wounds that we are bound to understand and heal,” he said.
But he did not mention any specific actions the Holy See was willing to take.
Trudeau also said that the visit was a beginning and that reconciliation was the duty of all. “It is our responsibility to see our differences not as an obstacle but as an opportunity to learn and understand each other better and move into action.”
The Associated Press’s religious coverage is supported by an Associated Press collaboration with The Conversation US, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.