The Catholic Church in Canada has apologised “unequivocally” to the country's indigenous peoples for a century of abuses at church-run residential schools set up by the government to assimilate children into the mainstream.
The move follows recent discoveries, which convulsed Canada, of some 1,200 unmarked graves of indigenous children forced to attend the schools from the late 1800s to the 1990s.
“We, the Catholic Bishops of Canada, express our profound remorse and apologise unequivocally,” a statement read.
Pupils were physically and sexually abused by headmasters and teachers who stripped them of their culture and language.
Indigenous communities continue to deal with the lasting trauma of the government's failed policy.
The apology comes less than a week before the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, declared in honour of missing indigenous children and residential school survivors, scheduled for September 30.
In the statement, the bishops said they “acknowledge the suffering experienced” by pupils and the “grave abuses” inflicted upon them, citing “physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, cultural, and sexual” mistreatment.
Many Catholic religious communities and dioceses participated in this system, which led to the suppression of indigenous languages, cultures and spirituality, failing to respect the rich history, traditions and wisdom of indigenous peoples, they said.
“We also sorrowfully acknowledge the historical and ongoing trauma and the legacy of suffering and challenges faced by indigenous peoples that continue to this day.
“Indigenous groups and leaders have called for a papal apology for the Church's role in the residential schools, with backing from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who in June said he implored Pope Francis to “make an apology to indigenous Canadians on Canadian soil".
The bishops said a delegation of Canadian indigenous peoples is scheduled to travel to the Vatican in December to meet the pope.
In the meantime, they also pledged to work with the Vatican and indigenous leaders to try to schedule a papal visit to Canada “as part of this healing journey".