Pope Francis apologises to Canada's indigenous for residential school abuse

Abuses caused pontiff 'pain and shame' as indigenous leaders call for him to apologise on Canadian soil

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Pope Francis apologised on Friday for abuse committed at church-run residential schools in Canada, telling indigenous delegations at the Vatican it caused him “pain and shame".

“I ask for God's forgiveness for the deplorable conduct of these members of the Catholic Church,” he said, following meetings this week with survivors from the First Nations, Metis and Inuit aboriginal groups.

After hearing “stories of suffering, deprivation, discriminatory treatment and various forms of abuse,” the Pope said he joined Canadian bishops “in asking you for forgiveness".

Indigenous leaders want the pope to make the apology on Canadian soil. The pontiff said he hoped to travel to Canada for the country's St Anne's Feast Day on July 26.

“This year, I would like to be with you on that day,” he said.

About 150,000 children were taken from their homes. Many were subjected to abuse, rape and malnutrition in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 called “cultural genocide".

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the apology marked a "step forward in acknowledging the truth of our past."

"We cannot separate the legacy of the residential school system from the institutions that created, maintained, and operated it, including the Government of Canada and the Catholic Church," Mr Trudeau said in a statement.

"Today’s apology will resurface strong emotions of hurt and trauma for many."

The stated aim of the schools which operated between 1831 and 1996 was to assimilate indigenous children. They were run by several Christian denominations on behalf of the government, most by the Catholic Church.

The pope slammed the “ideological colonisation” of which “so many children have been victims".

“Your identity and culture have been wounded, many families have been separated,” he said.

The schools scandal erupted anew last year with the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the former Indian Residential School in Kamloops in the western Canadian province of British Columbia.

The discovery at the school, which closed in 1978, reopened old wounds and brought fresh demands for accountability. Hundreds more unmarked burial sites have been found since then.

“Today was a day I will never forget for the rest of my life,” said Angie Crerar, an elder from the Metis Nation of Alberta, who was part of the delegation present at the Vatican.

Ms Crerar, who met with Francis twice, detailed her conversation with him to reporters at a press conference in Vatican City.

“I told him: 'Don't forget our children', and he said ‘We won't'," she said.

"To me, that's a dream come true."

But for some, the long-awaited apology is too little, too late.

“It doesn't matter to me,” said Sam George, an elder from the Squamish Nation in Vancouver. “I know it matters to a lot of people but I don't care.”

Mr George is a residential school survivor. He detailed his experience at the St Paul Indian Residential School in North Vancouver to The National in September.

Mr George said he was verbally, physically and sexually abused for years while attending the school.

He estimates that of the nearly 50 people he went to school with only three are still alive, rendering the pope's apology far too late.

“It’s 65 years later,” he said.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Updated: April 01, 2022, 6:51 PM
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