Catholics have a role to play in continuing to urge Pope Francis to apologize for the role the church played in running Canada’s residential schools, Crown-Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said Wednesday after the pontiff publicly declined to accept responsibility for the trauma suffered by Indigenous survivors.
The federal government will keep pushing the church to apologize for its role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children in Catholic-run residential schools, as recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Bennett said.
“Sorrow is not enough. Sorrow is never enough,” Bennett said, referencing an expression of regret the former pope delivered to a group of former victims and survivors of the church-run boarding schools who visited the Vatican in 2009.
“One has to take responsibility for the harm that was done, not only to the children that were taken, but for the families left behind.”
A letter released Tuesday by the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops says Pope Francis has not shied away from recognizing injustices faced by Indigenous peoples around the world, but that he can’t personally apologize for residential schools.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is Catholic, said he was disappointed by the Pope’s decision, stressing that reconciliation extends beyond the relationship between the government and Indigenous people. Trudeau visited the Vatican last year, where he personally asked the Pope to consider the gesture.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, also a Catholic, said all institutions that played a significant role in the residential school system should apologize in order to move Canada forward on the path of reconciliation.
The church has offered formal apologies in the past, including in 2010 to Irish victims of sexual abuse and in 2015 to Indigenous peoples in the Americas for the “grave sins” of colonialism.
From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to attend Christian schools, the majority of which were run by the Catholic Church.
The church’s refusal to take responsibility is part of a misplaced belief held by Catholic leaders that the abuse was simply discipline gone wrong, and was justified in order to save souls through religious conversion, Senator and former judge Murray Sinclair, who co-chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said Wednesday on social media.
“Canadian Catholic leaders who persuaded the Pope to adopt this position should be ashamed of themselves,” Sinclair said. “The shame of those who abused children in their institutions in the past is now theirs to wear.”
Sinclair’s son Niigaan, a native studies professor at the University of Manitoba, described the church’s decision as “remarkably short-sighted and disrespectful.”
Reconciliation cannot happen in Canada without an apology from the Catholic Church, he added.
“Before we can have any reconciliation we have to have truth,” Niigaan Sinclair said, adding that an apology would “be a recognition by the church that they participated in genocide.”
Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette, who has Cree and Metis heritage, said he believes the Church will eventually apologize — a day he said may come during a future papal visit to Canada.
“If one man could simply snap his fingers, things would have been done a long time ago, but unfortunately that doesn’t happen in large institutions,” said Ouellette, who said he attends a Catholic church.