ROME – Pope Francis agreed to meet with Indigenous survivors of Canada’s famous residential schools in December amid calls for a papal apology for the role of the Catholic Church in the abuse and death of thousands of Indigenous children.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said Francis has invited delegations to the Vatican and will meet separately with three groups – First Nations, Métis and Inuit – during their visit from December 17 to 20. The pope will then preside over a final audience with the three groups on December 20, the conference said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Vatican did not confirm the visit on Wednesday, but the Holy See’s internal information portal reported on the bishops’ statement. Canadian bishops said the trip was pandemic contingent and delegations would include residential school survivors, Indigenous elders and youth, as well as Indigenous leaders and Canadian bishops.
In recent weeks, investigators using ground-penetrating radar have reported finding hundreds of anonymous graves at the sites of two residential schools for Indigenous children. The finds – more than 600 graves in one school, 215 bodies in another – have reignited calls, including from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for the Pope to issue a formal apology.
From the 19th century to the 1970s, more than 150,000 Aboriginal children were forced to attend publicly funded Christian residential schools in an attempt to assimilate them into Canadian society. Thousands of children died there from disease or other causes, and many never returned to their families.
Almost three-quarters of the 130 boarding schools were run by Roman Catholic missionary congregations, while others were administered by the Presbyterian, Anglican and United Church of Canada, which is today the largest Protestant denomination in the country. .
The government formally apologized for the politics and the abuse in 2008. Additionally, the Presbyterian, Anglican and United Churches have apologized for their role in the abuse.
The Canadian bishops did not mention the request for a papal apology in the statement, saying only that Francis was “deeply committed to hearing indigenous peoples directly.”
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He said he had personally invited Indigenous delegations and would use the meetings to “express his sincere closeness, to address the impact of colonization and the role of the Church in the residential school system, in the hope to respond to the suffering of indigenous peoples. and the continuing effects of intergenerational trauma. “
The papal apology was one of 94 recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, but the Canadian Bishops’ Conference said in 2018 that the Pope cannot personally apologize for the residential schools.
Pope Benedict XVI, who retired in 2013, met former students and victims in 2009 and shared with them his “personal anguish” over their suffering. But he didn’t apologize.