Residential school survivors want ‘significant’ action with papal apology

TRC leader cites call to action 58 that specifies apology be ‘similar’ to 2010 apology to Irish abuse victims

Pope Francis apologizes at the Vatican in April for the role the Catholic Church played in residential school system abuses. He’s coming to Canada next week to make another apology, on Canadian soil. (Screenshot from Salt and Light Media)

By Randi Beers

Residential school survivors don’t just want an apology from Pope Francis.

They want action.

That’s according to Stephanie Scott, executive director for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

The centre is an institution created by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, to preserve the record of abuses that occurred within the country’s residential school system and promote a dialogue for reconciliation and healing.

One of the TRC’s calls to action is an apology from the Pope, on Canadian soil, for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the abuse of an estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools from the 1880s through, in some cases, the late 1990s.

The apology was called for within one year of the Truth and Reconciliation Report, published in 2015.

Seven years later, Pope Francis is expected make that apology sometime after his arrival in Canada July 24.

While expectations are likely as varied as each individual to whom the Pope will be apologizing, the TRC provides a template for what his apology should include, in its call to action No. 58.

It specifies the apology should be “similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse.”

Pope Benedict XVI’s apology to Irish victims of abuse is more than 4,500 words in length. It is broken down into a message to victims of abuse and their families, priests and other Catholics who abused children, parents, the young people of Ireland, bishops, and to all the faithful of Ireland.

It also includes a formal commitment to convene an investigation into sex abuse within the church in Ireland, called an “apostolic visitation.”

That investigation commenced May 31, 2010, and culminated with a report two years later.

Scott explained in a statement to Nunatsiaq News that the Irish apology is held up as an example for two major reasons. First, it was broad in scope, and it addressed the culpability of the church as a whole.

“Pope Benedict XVI addressed the victims, their parents, the abusers, church leaders and the Irish faithful and acknowledged the systemic failings that put concern for the reputation of the church and the avoidance of scandal ahead of the safety and well-being of children,” she said.

But the fact that Benedict XVI’s apology was not just made up of words was important, too.

“Survivors have said they want to see an apology that leads to sincere, significant, and immediate action towards reparations and ending the ongoing harm caused by institutions within the church,” she said.

Scott didn’t specify whether that action should be in the form of an investigation like what the church carried out in Ireland 12 years ago.

But Inuit leaders have recently pressured Pope Francis to move on one issue — the fate of Johannes Rivoire, a priest who has been charged with several sexual offences during his time in Nunavut from the 1960s through the 1990s.

Rivoire did not work within the residential school system, but his alleged abuses were carried out while he was working as a priest.

Rivoire currently lives in France, out of reach of the Canadian justice system.

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed was part of an Indigenous delegation that made the trip to the Vatican this spring, and came back with assurances that the Catholic church would do what it can to make sure Rivoire sees justice.

To date, the Catholic Church has not provided any detail on what that might entail.

Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Canada for six days, starting Sunday. He’s arriving in Edmonton, then moving on to Quebec City before heading to Iqaluit mid-afternoon on July 29.

While in Iqaluit, he’s planning to meet privately with residential school survivors and host a short public event outside Nakasuk Elementary School.

From there, the Pope will board a plan back to Rome.


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