The discovery last month of the remains of 215 children at a former Catholic school for Indigenous students in British Columbia has reopened old wounds.
Pope Francis has expressed sorrow over the discovery in Canada of the remains of 215 Indigenous students of church-run boarding schools but didn’t offer the apology sought by the Canadian prime minister.
Francis, in remarks to faithful gathered in St Peter's Square, called on Sunday on political and church authorities to work to shed light on what he called "this sad affair” and to foster healing.
Two days earlier, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was deeply disappointed that the Vatican hadn’t offered an apology, and called on the church to take responsibility.
From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools, the majority of them run by Catholic missionary congregations, in a campaign to assimilate them into Canadian society.
Many were subjected to abuse, rape and malnutrition in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 called "cultural genocide".
I’m concerned about the historicization of the #215children The Oblate order that ran the school still exists. They still send missions to colonize “developing” nations. There needs to be a conversation about the continuation of missionary colonialism today. #Canada #Genocide— Anthony Auchterlonie (@Anthony_Auchter) June 3, 2021
Remains of Indigenous children stirs outrage
Ground-penetrating radar was used to confirm the remains of the children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, British Columbia, last month. The school was Canada's largest such facility and was operated by the Catholic church between 1890 and 1969.
The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse was rampant in the schools, with students beaten for speaking their native languages.
“I follow with sorrow the news that arrives from Canada about the upsetting discovery of the remains of 215 children," Francis said in his customary Sunday noon remarks to the public.
“I join with the Catholic church in Canada in expressing closeness to the Canadian people traumatised by the shocking news,'' Francis said. ”This sad discovery increases the awareness of the sorrows and sufferings of the past."
"May the political and religious authorities continue to collaborate with determination to shed light on this sad affair and to commit to a path of healing,'' Francis added.
Trudeau on Friday blasted the Church for being “silent” and “not stepping up,'' and called on it to formally apologise and to make amends for its prominent role in his nation's former system of church-run Indigenous boarding schools.
He noted that when he met with Francis at the Vatican in 2017 he had asked him to ”move forward on apologising" and on making records available. But, Trudeau said, “we're still seeing resistance from the church, possibly from the church in Canada.”
Francis' comments spoke of healing but not of apology.
“These difficult moments represent a strong call to distance ourselves from the colonising model and from today's ideological colonising and to walk side by side in dialogue, in respect and in recognising cultural rights and values," he said.
Francis, who was elected pope 17 years after the last schools was closed, has already apologised for the Church's role in colonialism in the Americas.
But he has mostly chosen to make direct apologies while visiting countries and talking to native peoples.
No papal visit to Canada is scheduled.