‘A disastrous error’: Pope sorry for abuses suffered by Indigenous families

Pope Francis issues long-awaited apology on Canadian soil for harms caused by Catholic clergy in residential school system

Pope Francis is seen praying at the Ermineskin Cree Nation Cemetery on Monday in Maskwacis, Alta., as part of his visit to Canada. (Screenshot from Vatican News/YouTube)

By Jeff Pelletier - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Pope Francis offered a long-awaited apology Monday to an audience of Indigenous people in Alberta for the actions of members of the Catholic Church and for the “catastrophic” effects of Canada’s residential school system.

“The first step of my penitential pilgrimage among you is that of, again, asking forgiveness, of telling you once more that I am deeply sorry,” Francis said.

The Pope made those comments at a ceremony on the former site of Ermineskin Residential School in Maskwacis, Alta., on Monday, the second day of a Canadian visit that began in Edmonton.

Several hundred Inuit, First Nations and Métis from across the country were in the audience for the remarks, along with dignitaries including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Gov. Gen. Mary Simon, Nunavut MP Lori Idlout and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed.

Speaking in Spanish, his first language, Pope Francis acknowledged the painful stories he heard from residential school survivors about the experiences they had during their childhoods. His remarks offering apology were met with brief applause from the audience.

Many in the crowd were visibly emotional and attentive, while others had their phones out taking pictures and videos. Francis, who is 85 years old, has been dealing with health and mobility issues. He delivered his remarks seated, after being assisted to the stage in a wheelchair.

Inuit Child First, Indigenous Services Canada

“This was a disastrous error, incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Francis said of Canada’s residential school system.

“I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous Peoples.”

The Pope also included a message about what needs to happen next. He said the church needs to ensure that what happened in the past is fully investigated so that it never happens again.

“An important part of this process will be to conduct a serious investigation into the facts of what took place in the past and to assist the survivors of residential schools,” he said.

The remarks ended with a moment of silence, after which several of the attendees climbed on to the Pope’s stage to present him with gifts.

After the event ended, Pope Francis left Maskwacis for an event at St. Joseph Seminary in Edmonton.

Baffin Business Development Corporation Annual General Meeting

Afterward, the Pope’s apology drew reactions from within the grounds of the ceremony and online.

Elmer St. Pierre, national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, said the organization welcomes the apology but more action must follow.

“It’s time the Catholic church open its record books and help uncover the truths behind residential schools and identify the countless children who never returned home,” said St. Pierre.

“The symbolic gesture of an apology is appreciated and an important first step, but the Catholic church must now focus on reparations and action to ensure reconciliation can be achieved.”

Idlout, who was present at the ceremony, issued a statement through the NDP shortly after the speech.

“The Pope’s visit is an opportunity to forge a new path toward healing — it must not be symbolic,” she said in a news release.

“Co-operating with ongoing investigations and making all documents requested by survivors, police and local governments available is the very least that the Church and the federal government can do for Indigenous peoples.”

Canada’s residential school system was a federal government policy from the 1880s until the 1990s. It was designed to separate Indigenous Peoples from their language and culture by removing children from their family and community, and making them live at one of the 139 schools.

Many of the children suffered physical and sexual abuse at the hands of Roman Catholic clergy, who were responsible for running the schools.

Canadians began to understand the impact of residential schools a year ago when they learned many of the schools had unmarked graves nearby.

Francis gave a similar apology in April of this year after meeting with delegations of Inuit, First Nations and Métis. But that apology was given at the Vatican, setting the stage for the head of the Roman Catholic Church to come to Canada this week to deliver the same message to Indigenous Peoples.

The Pope’s trip through Canada continues this week with events in Edmonton and Quebec City, before a final stop on Friday in Iqaluit.


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(19) Comments:

  1. Posted by wakks on

    “I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples.”

    Dude, you should be apologizing for the evil committed by the Catholic Church. 60% of the schools were run by the Catholic Church, the church you’re the head of. That’s who you can apologize for. It wasn’t a random collection of parishoners from various “christian” religions or even a random collection of Catholics who ran those schools. It was the Catholic Church and appointed leaders. Say it. Stop playing word games.

    • Posted by So True on

      So true – he speaks only for Catholics, not for all Christians.

      • Posted by Crystal Clarity on

        Catholics are Christians. There were ay people in the gathering who were not Catholics. Many were Anglican or other denominations.

        • Posted by wakks on on

          He spoke about the terrible things some Christians did. He was supposed to apologize for what the organization, the Catholic Church, did. Those schools were something the organization decided to operate. Even if there had been no physical or sexual abuses, the purpose of those schools was awful. He should apologize for that. And yes, individuals did commit horrific abuses. Those were people who were leaders in the Church, and when the organization, the Catholic Church, found out, they hid those people. They didn’t “fire” them and round turn them over to police and offer full cooperation. They housed them, kept them on the payroll and in some cases, assigned them to work with more children. So he has no business offering apologies for “so many Christians”. He needs to admit that what the Catholic Church, the organization he specifically represents, did was wrong. He never will though because he believes the Catholic Church is sinless. True story. That’s what the Catholic Church believes. So that apology will never happen in a zillion years.

        • Posted by The Debate Goes On on

          That is debated in many quarters.

          There are many – many in my family among them – who would sincerely argue that Catholics are not real Christians.

          We in Nunavut are so often ignorant of the political/religous dynamic in other parts of the country.

          • Posted by Logic 101 on

            In logic 101 we learned that:

            A) All crows are birds

            B) Not all birds are crows

            Please use this as a simple heuristic the next time you wish to argue that Catholics are not Christians.

            • Posted by cran on

              The argument isn’t that Catholics aren’t Christians. That is a whole other discussion. The point was that someone who identifies as Christian is often not Catholic. Mr. Pope should be specifying that it was people from his specific brand of Christianity that he is apologizing for.

            • Posted by You Have Misread on

              I am an atheist, I don’t believe as Christians do.

              However, I do come from a very Baptist background – I am, in fact, a failed Bapist.

              I am not trying to convince you of anything – I am only sharing what is a not uncommon belief in some circles.

          • Posted by So Right! on

            So very true! In my part of the country”mixed-marriage’ usually means Catholic/Protestant.

            Many might find it stupid, but that doesn’t matter. It it real, and important, to those folks.

          • Posted by Dave on

            However……………… it’s not debated by Catholics at all.

            Catholics consider themselves Christian and aren’t open to the divisive opinions of others who have exclusive definitions of Christianity. End stop.

            • Posted by quay on

              The sign on the front of the church makes a distinction. It clearly states that it is a Roman Catholic Church, and I’m pretty sure that’s who they want the cheques made out to. They make the distinction when it is convenient for them.

            • Posted by Idol Worshippers on

              Catholics are sincerely seen by many as idol worshipping papists; from that perspective, what they think of themselves is immediately suspicous.

              I think that this mindset is much more common in the over 40s than the areligous younger.

        • Posted by hermann kliest on

          In facts, it was the Vatican who is responsible for those priest molesters of young children and teenagers. Not Christians, be specific, Roman Catholic Church; the Vatican…..

      • Posted by Forever Amazed on

        I have an issue with the usage of the word ,”christians” in the speech. I would like to think it may be an issue with translation but I doubt it. He represents catholics only, not christians in general. There are protestants for very good reasons.

        The line should have been:
        “I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many catholics against the Indigenous peoples.”

  2. Posted by Taxpayer on

    Denying witness to the Holocaust, Requiring celibacy of priests and nuns leading to centuries of repressed sexual violence. Terrorizing Jews and Muslims. Burning Joan of Arc at the Stake, Burning Tynedale at the stake for translating the bible into English. Witch burning. Issuing indulgences. The Roman and Spanish Inquisitions, The Rwandan Genocide. Jailing Galileo for stating astronomical fact. Condemning contraceptives and abortion leading to many generations of reproductive misery, STIs, abondoned kids by a significant fraction of humanity. At some point, the Vicar of Christ might not only have to apologize, but wonder how legitimate a Church dedicated to Christ could be that has wandered so far off from basic human morality.

  3. Posted by post1 on

    Th pope is evil on steroids. this is th day of salvation. that is a plus for souls.

  4. Posted by Name Withheld on

    I only speak for myself, might be others that agree or disagree with me but hey we live in Canada. Where social media has change the world if not better but for the worst… Where everyone use the keyboards as a way of saying something that you cannot to a specific person, group in person…

    I’m glad he has asked for forgiveness, even if it was before his time as a Pope. That shows what kind of a person he is…

    Don’t matter if you are indigenous, white, black, or another… We all have a time and day when you will be questioned for your actions during your time on earth. And yes a lot that don’t care what soever as long as they get their dime, say, etc…
    The fact of the matter is… he is coming to Nunavut to apologize for someone else actions that happen to children.

    The money received is gone, did it help? Nooo as it was gone right away right? Others use to buy a valuable item, while others use it for endless traveling and so on..

    What I am saying no matter what is given to you, it will not and never will erase anything in your memory. It starts within yourself and no one nor anything can ask you to forget..

    • Posted by No Soul on

      “The money received is gone, did it help? Nooo as it was gone right away right? Others use to buy a valuable item, while others use it for endless traveling and so on”
      It’s exactly like that with you, you maybe a a fleeting moment where you remember feelings well these were KIDS with souls unlike you, “HEINOUS CRIMES” and all you yhought was money were your parents teachers or nuns maybe R.C.M.P.

  5. Posted by Uvanga on

    Please, part of moving forward is forgiveness regardless of time or space. I know we cannot erase what was done but learn from it. “I think that the past is the most difficult time, so to speak, to forgive. In the future, there’s hope, and in the present, necessity, but it is in that past that what happened keeps repeating itself.” When you forgive, you release the past, believe me, I’ve been in that dark place before. It’s time to move on.


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