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Pope Francis apologizes for residential school abuses

The apology came at the Vatican after meetings with First Nations, Métis and Inuit delegations from Canada

Following week-long meetings at the Vatican with First Nations, Métis and Inuit delegations from Canada, Pope Francis has issued an apology for the Catholic churches’s role in residential school abuses.

Among those in the Assembly of First Nations delegation was Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kúkpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir, who on Thursday (March 31) hand-delivered a note inviting the pope to come to Tk’emlups when he visits Canada, a trip expected to occur later this year.

In a letter posted to the Vatican website, Pope Francis outlined his sorrow for residential school abuses from the early 1890s to 1996 and offered an apology.

“Listening to your voices, I was able to enter into and be deeply grieved by the stories of the suffering, hardship, discrimination and various forms of abuse that some of you experienced, particularly in the residential schools,” the pope said.

“It is chilling to think of determined efforts to instil a sense of inferiority, to rob people of their cultural identity, to sever their roots and to consider all the personal and social effects that this continues to entail — unresolved traumas that have become intergenerational traumas.:

The pope said he feels indignation and shame.

“Indignation because it is not right to accept evil and, even worse, to grow accustomed to evil, as if it were an inevitable part of the historical process,” Pope Francis said. “No. Without real indignation, without historical memory and without a commitment to learning from past mistakes, problems remain unresolved and keep coming back. We can see this these days in the case of war. The memory of the past must never be sacrificed at the altar of alleged progress.

I also feel shame. I have said this to you and now I say it again. I feel shame — sorrow and shame — for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you, in the abuses you suffered and in the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values. All these things are contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God's forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart — I am very sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon.”

Tk’emlúps’ announced in May 2021 that a ground-penetrating radar survey on land near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School had shown signs of 200 probable graves, with confirmation dependent upon excavation of the site.

The announcement led to calls that the Roman Catholic Church be held accountable for its role in the residential school system from the early 1800s to 1996.

It also led to calls for the pope to offer a public apology for the Catholic church’s role in administrating federally created residential schools in Canada.

“For over 100 years, our people have been dealing with the devastating impacts of residential school,” Casimir said following her meeting with the pontiff.

Casimir also gave the Pope an eagle feather beaded in orange with small crosses. It was to serve as a reminder of the children who went to residential schools, she said, and also that “there is still much truth to be uncovered” and the church must play a role.

“This is our collective history,” she said. “This is our history that we need to change for the hope for our children, our future generations. We all have to be a part of that difference.”