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 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.