After a landmark apology first issued in Rome on April 1, Pope Francis told Indigenous survivors of Canada’s Indian residential schools he was “deeply sorry” and begged for their forgiveness for the “evil” Christians committed against Indigenous peoples in this past. established country.
But while it’s a welcome step, is this just a theatrically showing off the realm of the Catholic Church? Or is the Pope real? ashamed and sad for the sins the church has committed against native children?
Is the Pope really ashamed and saddened by the sins the Church has committed against native children?
It’s been seven years Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called on the head of the Catholic Church to apologize for operating a network of what were essentially concentration camps for children.
And the Pope did not try to downplay the seriousness of this age of darkness; he rightly called it a “deplorable evil.”
It is despicable and unfathomable that indigenous children were snatched from their families and forced to live in homes of horrors where murder, death, abuse and neglect were inflicted upon them by an institution that claimed to represent a loving God.
“I think back to the stories you told how the policies of assimilation ended up systematically marginalizing the indigenous peoples, how also, through the system of residential schools, your languages and cultures were denigrated and suppressed,” the Pope said on Monday. He sat on a raised all-white platform within the circular outer structure of the traditional powwow gazebo, with ceremonially dressed leaders of the four nations of Maskwacis in central Alberta beside him.
Although he had canceled or postponed other plans, the 85-year-old pope, who uses a wheelchair, seemed particularly determined to keep this promise. Indeed, thousands of survivors and their families traveled from all over Canada and the US to hear his words. The crowd was very quiet – as if survivors were holding their breath after generations of waiting for this day of reckoning.
The intergenerational effects of the atrocities committed against the early peoples of this country live on. They appear in the form of brokenness, adversity, suicide, impoverishment, inequality and extensive systemic racism. Survivors have told me how their residential schools “broke their minds”.
Winston Northwest, a 63-year-old Indian Day School survivor from Maskwacis, took a trip to visit his father’s days before the papal apparition. Winston was 11 years old when, he says, his father, a survivor of the Ermineskin Cree Nation Indian Residential School, drank himself to death. Winston thinks the residential school killed his father. Winston burst into tears, describing how he told his father that it was finally time to heal, forgive and, hopefully, move on.
Other survivors heal in different ways. Some ignored the Pope; others celebrated his visit as a new beginning.
And this is really a beginning, not an end. This journey to truth, healing and reconciliation is a deeply personal experience for every survivor.
On Monday, I was less than ten feet from the Pope when he stopped to pray on the Ermineskin Cree Nation steps in front of the site where the residential school once stood. There was even an electric fence that once lined the perimeter of the school to keep the kids in – as if they were animals.
And yet I wondered if Pope Francis? For real understands. Whether he really understands the gravity of what happened, the genocide committed against children. When he prayed, did he pray again for forgiveness? Did he ask for forgiveness for past sins?
And yet I wondered if Pope Francis really understands. Whether he really understands the gravity of what happened.
For while his apology seemed genuine, he omitted the sexual abuse that is widely reported in these institutions. Survivors immediately contacted me, wondering if a mistake had been made. Without a true and full recognition of the Catholic Church’s role in this abuse—all the abuse—the “deplorable evil” of residential schools will linger. And that also means recognizing the institutional fault of the church, not just the fault of its members.
“Despite the historic apology, the Holy Father’s statement has cut a deep hole in recognizing the full role of the Church in the residential school system by blaming the individual members of the Church,” Murray Sinclairwrote the former chief of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in response.
The church also says it is committed to taking concrete action to address outstanding grievances. When, where and how does this start? There are allegations that perpetrators are still alive who have never been prosecuted or convicted of their crimes.
Will Pope Francis heed requests from Inuit leaders and survivors to persecute? fugitive priest Johannes RivoireFor example, who has been accused of sexually abusing Inuit children? Rivoire, who denies the charges, has issued a Canadian arrest warrant and hides in a Catholic Church-run nursing home in France.
If he takes his apologies seriously, Pope Francis must also recant the genocidal doctrine of the discovery.
This doctrine has been around for centuries, ever since Pope Alexander VI created a series of papal bulls to justify the seizure of native lands in the name of Christianity. European settlers labeled as indigenous territories”terra nullius”, or wasteland. And the legacy of the doctrine of violent expropriation lives on.
Ultimately, the Pope’s “pilgrimage of penance” is a good first step. This journey has been tough and the burden just got a little lighter. But this dark legacy of the Church, and the horrifying reality of these schools, is more than a historical footnote. Apologies are good, but justice is better. And the victims of Canadian residential schools deserve both — even after the Pope returns to Rome.