Indian Time - A Voice from the Eastern Door

Canada's House of Commons passes 'historic' motion asking Pope Francis for apology on residential schools

MCK Grand Chief Norton states “our identity [has] no business in outside courts”


On Tuesday, May 1, the Canadian House of Commons passed a historic vote asking Pope Francis for a formal apology. The apology would address to Indigenous peoples of Canada the physical, sexual and emotional abuse suffered by the thousands of children forced to attend residential schools.

The motion was presented by NDP MP Charlie Angus, a federal Member of Parliament for the riding of Timmins - James Bay.

A total of 269 Liberal, Conservative, NDP, Green and other MPs voted in favor of the motion. Ten Conservative MPs opposed it but the motion has passed.

A papal apology was one of more than 94 calls to action and recommendations issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which spent years looking into the tragic experiences of the Indigenous students of the church-run schools that operated for more than a century in Canada. Thousands of children died and many more were physically and sexually abused.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had personally asked the Pope to issue an apology during his visit to the Vatican in 2017.

In March 2018, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a letter saying they had raised the matter with Pope Francis but said “he felt he could not personally respond.” That refusal to apologize sparked fierce condemnation.

All three other Christian denominations that ran residential schools have issued formal apologies. The United Church did so in 1998, the Presbyterian Church in 1994 and the Anglican Church in 1993.

However, the Catholic Church ran two-thirds of the schools and has refused to apologize or pay the monies it has been ordered to give as compensation to survivors.

Angus and other MP’s, including Roméo Saganash, a Member of Parliament for the Quebec riding of Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou and residential school survivor. Saganash has repeatedly criticized the refusal as an attempt by the Canadian bishops to shield themselves and the Church from further legal liability over the schools.

They say they want what the current and previous popes have given to survivors of abuse by the Church in other jurisdictions. While the former pope made an “expression of sorrow” to Indigenous leaders for the schools in 2009, survivors say that did not go far enough.

In 2010, a papal apology was issued to Irish victims of sexual abuse. In 2015, he apologized in Bolivia to the Indigenous peoples of the Americas for the “grave sins” of colonialism. And recently the Pope begged forgiveness for the “grave errors” in judgment he made in defending a Chilean bishop who covered up the abuses of a pedophile priest. His apology to the Chilean survivors came on the heels of outcry after he accused them of slandering the priest at the center of the allegations.


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