Pope apologizes for abuse at residential schools

Francis also commits to work with Inuit to bring accused French priest to justice following week of meetings with Indigenous delegates

Pope Francis apologizes for the role the Catholic Church played in the residential school system abuses. He is expected to visit Canada later this year, though the Vatican has not confirmed his itinerary. (Screenshot from Salt and Light Media)

By David Lochead

Pope Francis apologized Friday at the Vatican for abuses suffered by Indigenous children at the hands of some Roman Catholic clergy in Canada’s residential schools for more than a century.

“I want to say with all my heart, I am very sorry,” the Pope said on the last day of a week of meetings he held with Indigenous Peoples from Canada, including a seven-member Inuit delegation.

Francis acknowledged the role the church played in the residential school system and how damaging it was to generations of Indigenous Peoples in Canada for more than a century.

He also said it is chilling to think of how residential schools robbed Indigenous people of their cultural identity and the trauma it has caused.

Francis’ apology came after an Indigenous delegation from Canada, including representatives from Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Assembly of First Nations and the Métis National Council visited the Pope in Rome this week. The delegation came with the intention of getting that apology for the Catholic church’s role in residential schools.

The residential school system began in the 1880s as a way to separate Indigenous people from their culture, identity and language. Some of the schools remained open until the 1990s.

Last year, more than 1,800 unmarked graves were located at residential schools sites, prompting calls for the Catholic Church, and other institutions, to accept responsibility for their role in the system.

The Pope’s apology was long overdue, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed said in Rome on Friday, at a press conference for the Indigenous leaders of the delegation.

“There is much more to do,” said Obed, who led the Inuit delegation who met with the Pope on Monday.

“So an apology is part of a much larger picture.”

In Canada, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Aluki Kotierk said she urges Inuit to be gentle with themselves and each other, as there will be many mixed and confused emotions about the Pope’s apology.

“In my view, that path to reconciliation always has very difficult periods,” she said. “Although this will be difficult for Inuit, it is an important step.”

Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok called the apology a historic step toward reconciliation but he warned words cannot erase the damage residential schools caused to Inuit who were forced to attend, and the intergenerational trauma that followed.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking Friday during a funding announcement for Iqaluit’s water system, paid tribute to the “tremendous amount of bravery and determination” that Indigenous advocates had in pushing for an apology.

The Pope has also expressed his desire to visit Canada and deliver an apology in person, according to Bishop William McGrattan, a member of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, who was also part of this week’s delegation in the Vatican.

While the date for a visit was not specified, McGrattan said he hopes Francis can visit sometime this year.

On a related issue, the Catholic Church has also committed to working with Inuit to have priest Rev. Johannes Rivoire face justice.

“We have worked with the Catholic Church and they have expressed their willingness to work with us to ensure justice is served in this particular case,” Obed said.

Rivoire is accused of sexually assaulting Inuit children during his time working in Nunavut, from the 1960s until he left Canada in 1992. He is said to currently reside in France.

Three charges of sexual assault against Rivoire were stayed by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada in 2017. But in February, RCMP in Nunavut laid a new sexual assault charge against him, in relation to an allegation said to have occurred 47 years ago.

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(15) Comments:

  1. Posted by I&&uiilliqsimajunga on

    I am in disbelief and very hurt to the point it makes my blood boil and my stomach turn in anger that PIITA IRNIQ amma JACK ANARUAQ were left out with this very important trip to Rome! These 2 men along with the late Marius Tungilik worked very hard for so long for this apology to happen and no one thought of them?How in the world were the delegates selected to go to the Vatican in Rome? Thank you Pope for the long awaited apology! Thank you to the 3 brave men Piita, Jack & Marius for making this possible. The Healing Journey begins from here on!

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    • Posted by Speculation on

      Let me speculate that this was not an oversight. Let me speculate that their exclusion came from the vatican. Let me speculate that it came quite close to the end of the multi-decade process. Let me specuate that, just when it seemed that the seemingly impossible would happen, the choice was their exclusion, or no apology..

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    • Posted by anonymous on

      I agree on this one as those 3 worked so hard on this apology from the Pope. My thought on why Piita & Jack not chosen could be that of Natan Obed? Natan should have realized that Piita & Jack including late Marius Tungilik worked so hard & pushed to have this apology from the Pope to the former residential school survivors who were abused. My question is ‘why did Natan not chose Piita & Jack to attend the apology from Pope”? May God Bless those who are still hurting/struggling to overcome their abuses during residential school, may they seek help & guidance.

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  2. Posted by Perhaps on

    Perhaps the pope will stop in France and bring Johannes Rivoire to face justice in Canada.
    .
    Perhaps the pope will call all the priests and bishops and cardinals to Europe, to do missionary work amonget the Europeans.
    .
    Perhaps the pope will acknowledge that it is the Christians who have no souls.
    .
    Perhaps the pope will acknowledge that those who believe in virgin birth and original sin have no rational mind and hence are not human.
    .
    Perhaps the pope will realize and acknowledge that the problem is not a case of individual bad actors, but of a corrupt and harmful institution.
    .
    Perhaps the pope will come to realize and acknowledge that his church cannot be reformed and cleansed, that it must be disbanded, but in such a way that it disolves, rather than splinter into many cells, some even worse than that we have today.
    .
    Perhaps, but I think not. He has been too indoctrinated, for far too long.
    .
    Taima.

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    • Posted by Unhuman Unrational Mind on

      I get your vibe that you have issues with Christianity and religion. I take your point about the harms done by the Church, bad stuff happened. But then again no institution existing for 1000s of years is free from controversy. It is not unique to religion. Secular institutions killed more people in one century than the entire history of the human race. According to some thinkers, these are all indicators of the a certain doctrine centering around the fall of man and how it applies equally to all. Maybe we can all just agree that people can do better than they have in the past?
      .
      Otherwise will say that despite whatever grudges held or issues you have, your arguments around reason and reform are naive and don’t hold much water.

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    • Posted by Paradigm Shift on

      If whatever lens you apply finds you de-humanizing whole groups of people, in this case over a billion of them, you have to know that your lens is in need of as much scrutiny as the object of your contempt.

      I understand your antipathy toward religion too, I feel it very much. And I get your critique of whole systems, that’s valid and it resonates.

      At the same time there are bad actors, and bad actors are not always and exclusively bad because of the systems that surround them. I don’t think Catholicism made Johannes Rivoire a pedophile, for example. Though if you argued that it provided him an outlet, and through its sexual repressiveness made his pedophilia possible in ways that it would not otherwise be I would agree with you.

      Can religion be reformed? Can the church survive and find a meaningful niche for itself in the modern world, and into the future? I can’t say, and like you I have no desire to see it survive. But it may and if it does it will need to reform itself as it has always done, and that it always has (so far) seems to bode well for it.

      I read a great book on this recently called ‘The Evolution of God’ by Robert Wright. He’s an agnostic / Buddhist, but makes a compelling point about the adaptability and usefulness of religion in the world. He also speaks very openly about its atrocities and how those represent the ascendance of certain worldviews at different times, usually within a particular political environment (How large regional power Imperialism would stoke tribalism for example) and how at other times more conciliatory forces animated the writing of Biblical books (see the Epistles of Paul). It’s a different story to be a small powerless group of zealots promoting a foreign religion in the Roman Empire than it is when you are among your own and have some modicum of power.

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  3. Posted by Eww on

    Ofcourse they had to go to him. “You have to come here if you want an apology”. This is not the way to apologize for the way they treated us. Absolutely not. Pathetic.

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  4. Posted by Perhaps, also. on

    Perhaps our leaders who spoke with the Pope will start an enquiry into the ongoing
    sexual abuse & trauma which is ongoing in a lot of our indigenous communities ?
    Perhaps an enquiry into the dominant families who get the new houses and jobs ?
    Can we expect people to apologize, when our own native leaders will not do anything
    about their own suffering people ?
    GO FOR IT OBED !

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  5. Posted by Truestory on

    Y’all feel better since he apologized? Your pain gone? Your nightmares gone? Is your life any better now? Show or teach me how an “Apology” will make my pains, nightmares, go away. Just freakin’ words to me.

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    • Posted by Thomas Shelby on

      Words are a powerful thing, this would not have happened 20 years ago. People need to decide if they want to continue to suffer or take what he said and try and move on with their lives and try and make things positive rather than negative. Try and let the healing begin, everyone needs to decide if they will allow the “negative” to continue to run their lives.

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      • Posted by Qavvigarjuk on

        Easy for you to say when you do not have PTSD and no specialized treatment for it in Nunavut.

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        • Posted by Thomas Shelby on

          Who said I don’t have PTSD from Trauma? You have no idea what I have gone through in my life.
          And there is treatment here, you just need to be willing to do what it takes to get it and stop focusing on the “negative”.

      • Posted by Truestory on

        Teach me how the word “Apology” will heal my pain, nightmares, angers. We will live the pain inflicted upon us no matter what word you can come up with. Stop being a narrow minded person and see the real pain we suffer. “Apology” is just a word to me, so they can feel better after they “Apologize” to us survivors.

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        • Posted by Thomas Shelby on

          I’m not being narrow minded, I’m a survivor too and I learned to deal with it by not holding on to the negative things that happened to me. Sure it can be hard and painful etc., but its you that needs to take a stand and do what it takes to get yourself better. No one else is going to do it for you, its your choice.

          The end

          • Posted by Truestory on

            My choice is not to relive it. I do not forget it, but, I feel if I talk about it, I’ll just pass on the anger to my children. Their happiness is more important than my past. What’s done is done. Why keep the pain alive? Like God said, “Vengeance is mine”. So, since I choose to believe in God, I’ll let him pass judgement.

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