Pope Francis delivering apology to Canadian First Nations for residential schools
Pope Francis spent six days in Canada issuing apologies. Photo by Vatican Media (EV)/Abaca/Sipa USA(Sipa via AP Images)

Pope Francis went on what he called a six-day “penitential pilgrimage” across Canada to atone for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system in Canada.

The residential school system in Canada was a government-funded network of (often Catholic) boarding schools across the country. The goal of the program, which ran from the late 19th century into the early 1990s, was to assimilate roughly 150,000 Indigenous children in Canada by forcibly removing them from their families and encouraging them to abandon their native languages and cultures. The Canadian government referred to this as remedying the “Indian problem.”

A commission funded by the Canadian government would later call this system “cultural genocide.”

The program came under the international spotlight last summer with the reported discovery of an unmarked mass grave containing some 215 children at the site of one of these residential schools, prompting investigations that uncovered other potential mass grave sites. It is now estimated that between 4,000 and 6,000 children died within this system, although the evidence behind the mass graves themselves remains muddy. 

Nonetheless, it's clear the Catholic Church bears significant responsibility for the mistreatment of native children in Canada. 

Now, a year later, Pope Francis is formally saying sorry… but many argue he’s still not taking proper accountability for the Catholic Church’s major role in the atrocities.

A Delayed Apology

It took nearly a year from the discovery of the alleged mass grave at Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia for Pope Francis to officially apologize on behalf of the church. In April, he begged First Nations representatives for forgiveness for the church’s role in “the abuses you suffered and in the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values.”

On July 24, he landed in Edmonton from Rome to begin his official apology tour, a whirlwind six-day tour through Canada.

During this tour, Pope Francis called the residential school system “evil” and again apologized and begged forgiveness.

“I am sorry,” he said. “I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the ways in which many members of the Church and of religious communities cooperated, not least through their indifference, in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of that time, which culminated in the system of residential schools.”

It’s a Start

Many accepted the apology… but only as a first step. Critics feel that the pontiff repeatedly tried to pinpoint blame on individuals, instead of taking accountability for the church’s role as an institution in the residential school system. And many didn’t take kindly to him pointing out that the residential school systems were promoted by the government, arguing that it was a shirking of responsibility.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was chief among them. He said that they must apologize “ for the role that the Roman Catholic Church, as an institution, played in the mistreatment on the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse that Indigenous children suffered in residential schools run by the church.”

Others found some “gaps” in the pope’s apology as well. Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller pointed out that Pope Francis initially conspicuously left off sexual abuse when recounting the sins committed against the Indigenous children, although he later acknowledged sexual assault towards the end of his trip. 

While it’s a first step, many First Nations people were still happy that the pontiff gave a sincere – if overdue – apology.

“After meeting with (the) Pope and hearing his words, I believe there is a path forward together,” said Alexander First Nation Grand Chief George Arcand Jr. But, he added, “there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”

What is your reaction?

56 comments

  1. Linda weeks's Avatar Linda weeks

    Abuse against, and murder of, Native children by the Catholic Church occurred in the United States as well as well. The church should be required to liquidate their assets and give the money to the victims past and present and their families across the globe.

    1. Rev, Rene L.'s Avatar Rev, Rene L.

      Let us face it, the governmental and church-sponsored treatments of all the world's Indian / aboriginal / native populations has been harsh and shameful !!! The Canadian example is just one of many, and does certainly not stand alone.

  1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

    Perhaps, to add to his apology (which isn’t really worth much anyway) he could share some of the churches $30 billion as some form of reparation, and also to help feed those dying of hunger and thirst in Third World countries. 🤷🏼

    🦁❤️

    1. Dr. Zerpersande's Avatar Dr. Zerpersande

      Surely you jest!

      1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

        Yes, it should be more…..right? 🤭

        🦁❤️

        1. Randy C Hamilton's Avatar Randy C Hamilton

          Lionheart, To quote I don't know who, "Sorry doesn't help." And neither do "thoughts and prayers" which is all that believers (especially hypocrite politicians) ever offer.

          1. JaZe's Avatar JaZe

            abuses by priests have existed in many countries, they lie down with native women but refuse to acknowledge their own offspring, the catholic church should allow priests to get married!

          2. JaZe's Avatar JaZe

            Comment removed by user.

  1. Joe Stutler's Avatar Joe Stutler

    Now he needs to turn over all the perpetrators of abuse globally to the relevant civil authorities for prosecution. Until they clean house and make amends he'll still be the head of an international pedophilia conglomerate, and all of his flock are complicit in mass child-rape. There are no "innocent" Catholics, none are free from the stain of evil.

    1. Pastor George Day's Avatar Pastor George Day

      Joe Stutler, how about Mother Theresa?

  1. Aqilah Jackson's Avatar Aqilah Jackson

    Bodies were found! The count in Canada is over 11,000. Before you run your months ask the Indigenous…we would know and no the pope’s words mean nothing if no action is taken.

    1. CB Cuff's Avatar CB Cuff

      Maybe what you meant to say was 11,000 unmarked graves had been found?? There has been no public statement saying 'bodies' have been found. Media has put that spin on it. There likely will be remains found, but then there is the DNA process, which may take years, unfortunately.

  1. Matthew Mastrogiovanni's Avatar Matthew Mastrogiovanni

    The Catholic church has committed uncountable crimes against woman and children of all races, it's time for it to dip into it's near limitless wealth and pay reparations.

  1. Keith Allen Steele Eash's Avatar Keith Allen Steele Eash

    Funny. No bodies found but we apologize for sins ofvthe forefathers. Old Testament says we're not responsible for the sins of our fathers. No apologies, no reparations ever needed.

    1. Pastor George Day's Avatar Pastor George Day

      Keith Allen Steele Eash, that is not true. Another one who claims to know the Bible and never read it! Check Deuteronomy 28.

      1. flugo's Avatar flugo

        'past gorday': Eash is correct! Your mis-applied Deuteronomy reference shows the children suffering the CONSQUENCES, not the RESPONSIBILITIES of their fathers' sins. Your comment shows deficient scholarship and/or ignorance.

        And, invariably, people who use 'never', 'always', 'ever', 'all', and the like, are lazy in their research and/or fail to realize how these generalizations deflate their point of contention.

  1. Canadian Yankee's Avatar Canadian Yankee

    Personally, I am tired of all the hand wringing. What happened with the Catholic Church was and it a crime, those who committed the crime or sheltered the criminal should be held for punishment. But to crucify the entire church for it is as ridiculous as holding me responsible for reparations to those who came from relatives that were impressed into slavery. Where there are individuals that can show damages then try the case and if the jury finds the person or the church guilty, make restitution.

    I am not a Catholic in fact I don't claim membership in any church, synagogue or mosque. I do believe in Karma and fully expect the people responsible for bad action will be punished.

    1. Charles Jude Platt's Avatar Charles Jude Platt

      Well put my frend.

    2. Dr. Zerpersande's Avatar Dr. Zerpersande

      The problem is your analogy is not totally accurate. It is truly the govt that allowed slavery so the govt is responsible for past crimes, not the individuals. The govt now is the same govt as then. If you going to argue a statute of limitations then please do so. And I expect that the church has changed much less than has the govt. The church wouldn’t want me on the jury of a class action suit against it. No penalty would be too high.

      1. Canadian Yankee's Avatar Canadian Yankee

        With a PHD in whatever it is I would assume it should be obvious to you that government cannot give anything away it has not first taken from its people. So it is not the government that will pay it is the people. However, if you wish to divest yourself of all you have and contribute it to a fund, I will have no objections. If, you do that I would suggest with your thinking you start a fund for my people the Native Americans from whom this entire country was stolen.

        1. Dr. Zerpersande's Avatar Dr. Zerpersande

          You misunderstand my point. I agree with you that individuals (generally) can’t be held responsible for actions of their ancestors. The individuals that committed those acts are dead. But the govt lives on. In this case, the church. What’s more the church is still committing at least one of the crimes. If I had the power to make the decision churches would pay corporate/property taxes just like any other business.

          As for what happened to Native Indians I have no solution. But what you say is true. And it’s a truth every time I hear ‘Americans’ talk about ‘their country’ and how immigrants that have lived in the US for many years should be sent back, not considering the fact that their ancestors had no visas and that they are illegals themselves.

          1. Canadian Yankee's Avatar Canadian Yankee

            In person we well might agree on many things. I applaud your comment on churches paying property taxes. I find it hard to understand the SCOTUS ruling on that issue. However I stand fast on the issue of reparations. It is impossible to pay them to the right people and from the right pocket. I have taken a strong stand on civil rights and equal treatment all my life. However with that said a people have the responsibility to stand up on their own, just a does any man. Don't ask me what you want me to do for you until you tell me what you are doing for yourself. Another hand out will not cure the problem. As to the church, those who break the law and those that shelter the law breakers should have no place to hide and be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

            1. Dr. Zerpersande's Avatar Dr. Zerpersande

              Perhaps we already agree. I was agreeing with you. I don’t think that individuals are responsible for what their ancestors did 200 years ago. But but even though it was ‘individuals’ that performed many of the senseless acts of violence they did so with the ‘authority’ of their govt. And doing what your govt allows is ‘following the law’. And you’re right about standing up. But this was a way of thinking that was generations in the making. With govt backing. Racism, we’re better than them, they aren’t even human. GOD/JEHOVAH finally picked sides and gave specific instructions as to how to go about murdering the enemy. (The command was there, whether or not you currently believe such childish, ignorant beliefs.)

              Thing is, the land thing was a theft. Items of antiquities are sometimes returned to the rightful owners when ‘found’. Can the land of the USA, Alaska and Hawaii included, be returned?

              I don’t know the answer, but being aware of what happened, and finding it repugnant, holds not just for the ‘illegal immigrants’ that waged war on Native Americans, but for the church that committed it’s crimes. And the church is still doing it. Of course, so is the US. Remember Iraq and the WMD?

            2. Keith Allen Steele Eash's Avatar Keith Allen Steele Eash

              The issue of the Church not paying taxes is a Constitutional Right may I inform you. Create more taxes so the government can spend more money uselessly instead of investing it in free enterprise and promoting r common welfare which the Preamble of the Constitution means.

          2. Pastor George Day's Avatar Pastor George Day

            Dr. Zerpersande, in those days Visas were not needed. They were colonies.

    3. Pastor George Day's Avatar Pastor George Day

      Canadian Yankee, you are a member of this church :-)

  1. Maximillian Martin's Avatar Maximillian Martin

    IT'S NOT ENOUGH!!!!! His words mean nothing!!!

  1. Michael Hinkle's Avatar Michael Hinkle

    Any Catholic priet and leaders that molest children should be fired and stripped from services and have there documents revoked and not allow to tegain aurhority. How shameful and sinful can any Catholic priest and leaders do such things against God!

    1. Linda weeks's Avatar Linda weeks

      Abuse of an murder of native children occurred in the United States as well as Canada. The Catholic Church should be required to liquidate their assets and pay that money to the victims in families across the globe

      1. Pastor George Day's Avatar Pastor George Day

        Linda weeks, the Vatican assets are protected by the UN from angry people like you.

  1. CB Cuff's Avatar CB Cuff

    The acceptance of an apology is of course based on perception and merit. There is often the presence of confirmation bias, where regardless of overt 'sincerity' the recipient/s will never be convinced. The trauma cannot be undone, we all accept that. An apology from the pope will never exonerate the individuals responsible. That is the role of the legal system. Although the Canadian government has offered apologies on numerous occasions it has put in very little effort to hold anyone accountable. It has also provided hundreds of millions of dollars to 'compensate' victims. Which we as Canadians can see simply as a patronizing exercise with minimal benefit for the trauma experienced by the children and their parents. The Catholic Church, as the world has witnessed over and over, been complicit in sheltering the abusers, and it is highly unlikely that will end. The Catholic Church operates much like the military, orders come from the top down, and the chain of command is not to be questioned! So we're told.

    1. Keith Allen Steele Eash's Avatar Keith Allen Steele Eash

      I would recommend you read Canon Law. You have a misconception how the Church operates. Western philosophy of law is based on natural law. We can question and should question the law when we think something has been misconstrued in covering up sinful practices of individuals.

  1. Ann's Avatar Ann

    Well at least it's more than the over 100,000 home children got. It's up to us to make a difference. We need to honour them and make our voices heard. You never get closure or peace from somewhere else.

  1. Nicholas J Page's Avatar Nicholas J Page

    Why leave it so long?

    1. Pastor George Day's Avatar Pastor George Day

      Nicholas J Page, because it's the Catholic Church.

  1. Rev Mark D's Avatar Rev Mark D

    I'm I'm sorry we got caught and had to apologize 75 years too late. But I'm not sorry that we didn't have to pay anything or make any sort of reparations for what we did, woohoo!

  1. Dr. Zerpersande's Avatar Dr. Zerpersande

    Just another example of the dangers and hypocrisy of religion.

  1. David Owen Buck's Avatar David Owen Buck

    In fact many indigenous children had good experiences there. It was the only way some of them had any hope whatever of an education. In other cases there was horrible abuse. In all cases these children were ripped from their families and had their culture suppressed. None of that is OK.

    As for the supposed murders, the anthropologist who started this whole thing said she had discovered several thousand disturbances in the earth via Ground Penetrating Radar, which COULD be graves but would NEED TO BE INVESTIGATED by archaeological digs. Since these surveys were carried out in farms and orchards, it is hardly surprising that evidence of ground disturbance was seen. So far those digs have turned up exactly ONE set of human remains. Let's not get carried away until there is actual evidence.

    1. Keith Allen Steele Eash's Avatar Keith Allen Steele Eash

      First of all, why do we need to educate them. They were fine in their own cultural setting. Only provide it to those who want it. Enforcing education on anyone is indoctrination, not education.

  1. Cindy Lyn Ronan's Avatar Cindy Lyn Ronan

    The "Doctrine of Discovery" laid down the moral authority as coming from God so that subsequent Euro Christians would not only not feel any guilt but feel only self righteousness. The whole Colon-ization, that is the digestion, of non christian peoples was behind it all. It seems likely to me that the lesser holocaust had this same ideology.

  1. Johnny Mac 's Avatar Johnny Mac

    That does not relieve the Catholic Faith from those offended. Pay for your sin and maybe GOD will not hold it against you.

    If you are serious about it; then actively search for the perps and finding them: then make them repent, never let them out of your sight, and see that they repent!

    LORD GOD, We ask you forgive all only if they repent of their sin and never let it happen again. Their repentance should come through YOU and so be as LOVING to their victims heal them and keep them safe! And when the perp truly repents accept them back into the fold. Amen

    1. Douglas Robert Spindler's Avatar Douglas Robert Spindler

      @Johnny Mac Not sure how a women or young child who has been rapped can ever heal. Since the time of Martin Luther, 500 years ago we know the Catholic church has been raping women and children and is NOT keeping them safe. They have been protecting the priests and their financial empire/business.

      The Catholic church has been making people pay $$ to the church for their sins, only seems fair the Catholic church pays for theirs.

      1. Dr. Zerpersande's Avatar Dr. Zerpersande

        > only seems fair the Catholic church pays for theirs.

        I’d yank their tax free status in the blink of an eye.

      2. Keith Allen Steele Eash's Avatar Keith Allen Steele Eash

        Not the Church but individuals in the Church has carried out these atrocities. Don't blame the institution. Blame the sins of the sinners.

    2. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

      I wonder if your God is real? 🤔

      🦁❤️

      1. Randy C Hamilton's Avatar Randy C Hamilton

        Lionheart, I do not wonder: No proof = no belief.

  1. Richard Darwin Richards's Avatar Richard Darwin Richards

    When are Bush, Obama and Biden going to apologize for the millions killed as a result of the senseless warmongering these presidents inflicted?

  1. Carol M. Anaski-Figurski's Avatar Carol M. Anaski-Figurski

    Forgiven !

    1. Pastor George Day's Avatar Pastor George Day

      Carol M. Anaski-Figurski, only God forgives sins of such extent. Your duty is to pray for them.

      1. Keith Allen Steele Eash's Avatar Keith Allen Steele Eash

        Exactly. The social gospel is ok but when it dominates the real message of the Gospel which is to save souls people lose sight of the real purpose of the Great Commission: preach the Good News and baptise them. Clothing and feeding the poor is the last part.

  1. Samuel Beckett Dudgeon's Avatar Samuel Beckett Dudgeon

    My heart goes out to all Native Americans

    1. Keith Allen Steele Eash's Avatar Keith Allen Steele Eash

      Yep. Another bleeding heart liberal. And bleeding hearts created the situation by trying to force indoctrination upon the Indians. Why not just leave them alone with their own cultural ways. They were well educated in their natural ways and cultural mores.

  1. P. Keith Benefiel's Avatar P. Keith Benefiel

    Look out! The same "Black Robes" are in charge again. Monte Python was right. "Nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquisition!"

  1. Lisa Thayer-Van Dyke's Avatar Lisa Thayer-Van Dyke

    A big step. ❤️

  1. James Lynn Jones's Avatar James Lynn Jones

    THAT'S ALL? By the time the catholic church apologized for all the horrible things they have done to children it would never end. How many lives taken? How many lives totally ruined? It's like having a King--You kill your King forever or you shut up and keep on doing the same old nightmarish tactics.

    1. Pastor George Day's Avatar Pastor George Day

      James Lynn Jones, and how many children in the womb have governments killed? It works on both sides!

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