As part of his 37th Apostolic Visit, Pope Francis is going to be traveling to Canada. On this “penitential pilgrimage,” during which he will visit indigenous peoples, he will speak with those who have experienced the pain of having efforts made to eradicate their culture, particularly at residential schools that were operated by the Catholic Church.
Residential schools were institutions that were founded in the 1800s with the intention of isolating Aboriginal children from their families for the aim of minimizing and weakening familial bonds as well as cultural links.
First Prime Minister of Canada Sir John A. Macdonald spearheaded an effort to indoctrinate youngsters with the culture of Canada’s legally dominant Euro-Christian civilization.
Over the course of more than a century, an estimated 150,000 children from First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities were victimized in residential schools that were operated by the Catholic church and suffered abuse on several levels, including sexual, emotional, physical, and spiritual.
When the last of the schools finally shut its doors in the late 1990s, those who had survived the ordeal started speaking out about what they had been through.
As a result, the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement was negotiated, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was set up as a legal requirement.
Phil Fontaine, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, together with four other Aboriginal leaders and five leaders of the Roman Catholic community in Canada, visited Pope Benedict XVI in Rome in 2009.
Following the meeting, the Pope released a statement expressing sorrow for what had occurred. Some survivors responded positively to the letter, while many others said that the absence of an explicit apology from the Vatican demonstrated that the Catholic Church had not accepted responsibility for the harm it committed in residential schools.
They contrasted their predicament to an apology that was issued in Ireland at the same time, and the details of this comparison may be seen in a report that was produced by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
That year, a pastoral letter was sent to all Irish Catholics and a public statement was made to all parishes recognizing the church’s failure to confront child abuse in Catholic institutions.
In addition, the statement acknowledged the terrible suffering endured by those individuals who had been sexually abused as children by members of the Church. Pope Benedict expressed his deepest apologies for this matter.
Many survivors in Canada were aware of the Pope’s apology to survivors of Catholic ran schools in Ireland, and they questioned why a comparable apology had not been made to them.
The world was shocked three years later when Pope Benedict announced his retirement as Pontiff, resulting in a leadership shift within the Catholic Church.
In 2013, Pope Francis was elected to the position.
After that, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada took another two years to publish its conclusions, which included the statistic that an estimated 3,200 children perished at residential schools due to illnesses such as TB, malnutrition, and other disorders that were caused by terrible living circumstances.
Burial records from the period were poor, but the federal government has been asked subsequently to build a national framework for investigating and protecting burial sites, compatible with the rights, laws, jurisdiction and procedures of the impacted countries.
In the year 2021, Pope Francis extended an invitation to meet with representatives of indigenous groups from Canada. In March of this year, they traveled to Rome.
The Pope listened for a total of four hours spread out across multiple days.
On the last day, he pleaded for forgiveness from God for the appalling behavior of members of the Catholic Church and said that he was extremely sorry for what had happened.
Visitors to the Vatican asked him to come to Canada, which he gladly accepted.
Over the following six days he will go to the Canadian cities of Edmonton, Quebec and Iqaluit to visit indigenous peoples.
His visit to Canada this week is anticipated to include an apology.
Even if the Pope apologizes, it will not be enough for some survivors. For others, Francis should take things a step further and assume complete responsibility for the Catholic Church’s actions as a whole.
The legacy of Canada’s residential schools continues to plague many generations of indigenous people in that country, and it will take some time before indigenous people can trust the church or the government again.
The Trust and Reconciliation study from 2015 released 94 calls to action, which asked all levels of government – federal, provincial, territory, and aboriginal – to work together to modify policies and heal the suffering inflicted by residential schools in order to progress toward reconciliation. The report was published in 2015.
The federal government, which is directly or partly responsible for 76 of these acts, had finished 17 of them by April of this year, according to official figures.