Pope Francis recently extended a long-anticipated apology to the Indigenous peoples of Canada in light of the many uncovered abuses that took place in residential schools run by the Catholic Church, discloses CBS News.
The Pope’s response was prompted by the efforts of several Inuit, Metis, and First Nations delegates who traveled to Rome to solicit pontifical acknowledgement of the wrongdoings conducted by catholic officials. The apology, as activists had hoped, will be accompanied by financial reparations sanctioned by the Vatican. Furthermore, Pope Francis has announced plans to visit Canada in late July in order to personally address survivors, another move provoked by delegates. According to The Toronto Star, this trip was specifically requested by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, who sees a direct address as the next step of atonement. Advocacy groups are also seeking the restoration of documents, records, and precious artifacts stolen from Indigenous individuals by Catholic missionaries.
The establishment of these state-sanctioned schools, which forced students into residential facilities, resulted in the separation of approximately 150,000 Indigenous children from their families as the Church worked towards its primary objective of assimilation under the guise of education, reports Reuters. Children in these schools suffered not only neglect, but severe physical and sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic missionaries. Hundreds of children were beaten, raped, starved, and killed in the name of cultural assimilation and Caucasian superiority. Another Reuters article notes that the first schools of this nature opened in 1831, closing their doors by the late 1990s.
The issue of the abuse of Aboriginal children in Canada was brought forward upon the discovery of several mass graves last year. The burial sites, states The New York Times, contained the remains of at least 1,000 Indigenous individuals, most of which were children. The two largest unmarked graves, housing the bodies of 715 and 215 people, were found on the premises of former boarding schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan respectively. The total number of deaths inflicted by these Catholic schools remains unknown as the search for mass graves continues. Advocates cite this ongoing investigation as an additional reason for the return of stolen school records, as they may yield useful information about the specifics of indigenous disappearances.
In an official statement, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the Pope’s apology, expressing the Canadian government’s unwavering support for the Aboriginal communities impacted by these injustices. He said that the children whose lives were wrongfully taken from them are gone but not forgotten and promised to continue honoring and advocating for these victims.
The Associated Press describes the persisting intergenerational consequences that have occurred due to the Church’s desecration of Indigenous culture. Not only did these abuses result in the loss of native language, customs, and traditions within an entire generation of Indigenous people, but they also contributed to a plethora of other problems currently faced by Aboriginal communities, including high rates of substance abuse, mental illness, and suicide on reservations. Similar problems can be observed in nearly every previously subjugated community around the world, showing the weight of the impacts of colonization.
Nonetheless, the Pope’s redress has been deemed historic by many who cite the progressive implications of such a statement coming from the Catholic Church. To many, this instance providing hope for future Catholic reform and illustrates the gravity of the situation at hand.