Toronto Star [Toronto, Canada]
June 15, 2022
By Alex Boyd
With Francis planning to visit First Nations communities in Canada, some survivors offered him a suggested apology on behalf of the Catholic Church.
How does one apologize for the unforgivable?
In case Pope Francis has been wondering ahead of his visit to a handful of First Nations communities in Canada, during which he is expected to personally atone for abuses inflicted at residential schools, some survivors have offered him a written road map.
A suggested apology was released publicly Wednesday by the National Indian Residential School Circle of Survivors.
It is a succinct address that lays out the church’s complicity in the “grave harms” inflicted by the schools, commits the church to future action, including possible reparations, and asks for forgiveness.
Notably, it is written on behalf of the Catholic Church as a whole, a reflection both of criticisms that the Pope’s apology at the Vatican didn’t go far enough and the heightened expectations he will face on treaty territory and Canadian soil.
“In Rome, Pope Francis indicated that he wanted to walk together with survivors on the journey to reconciliation and that he would expand more on his apology when he came to our territories,” reads a statement accompanying the proposed apology.
“The National Indian Residential School Circle of Survivors wants to ensure that the Pope’s apology is accepted when he comes to Canada.”
In April, Francis apologized to almost 200 First Nation, Métis and Inuit delegates who had travelled to the Vatican to hear him speak of the “sorrow and shame” he felt about the schools, many of which were run by the Catholic Church and the last of which closed in 1997. In it, the Pope spoke at length about how meeting survivors had affected him, and how their words intersected with church doctrine.
With the recent discovery of unmarked graves at the sites of former schools, the Pope had faced increasing pressure to account for the church’s role, as well as the treatment of the survivors who endured emotional, physical and sexual abuse inside their walls.
But others noted that the Pope’s apology went only as far as referring to “a number of Catholics” who had been involved, and now that he’s set to visit Canada next month — he’s scheduled to visit Edmonton, Quebec and Iqaluit to meet survivors — the national group representing survivors is demanding more.
“There has to be a statement that says the Catholic Church apologizes for what went wrong,” says former AFN regional chief and spokesperson Ken Young. “Not just apologizing for a few people who did the wrong, it has to be the institution.”
The group has met with the Canadian Council of Canadian Bishops as planning for the trip gets into full swing, Young says.
The group has submitted its suggested apology to the bishops council, which issued the formal invite for the Pope’s trip.
In an email, Neil MacCarthy, a spokesperson for the Pope’s visit, said there had been “numerous meetings and ongoing dialogue with survivors including conversation regarding the words of Pope Francis in Canada.”
“This dialogue includes the many hours of meetings with survivors and the Pope in Rome as well as individual meetings and conversations here in Canada with various bishops. These insights have been shared with Vatican officials.”
The suggested apology traces the church’s wrongdoings right back to the early policies of assimilation, including the papal bulls — meaning declarations from the Pope — of 1455 and 1493, which declared that the non-Christian inhabitants of North America were inferior, and their lands up for grab.
The 85-year-old Pope’s health is currently an “extreme concern,” Marc Miller, federal Crown-Indigenous relations minister, said Wednesday, after a planned trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan was rescheduled, reportedly because of therapy he is undergoing for his knee.
Although his ailing health has limited his itinerary — he can’t travel by helicopter or for long distances by car — plans for his trip to Canada at the end of July are unchanged, Miller said, before entering a meeting of the Liberal caucus: “We’re all systems go in Canada in terms of hosting, effectively, what is a head of state.”
However it ends up being worded, the apology will carry tremendous weight for many survivors in Canada, says Veldon Coburn, an assistant professor in the Institute of Indigenous Research and Studies at the University of Ottawa. But there will be much scrutiny of what exactly the Pope takes ownership of, and how he plans to move forward.
There a storied history of leaders apologizing for wrongdoing, and even a growing history of leaders apologizing for residential schools. Coburn points to 2008, when Stephen Harper stood up in the House of Commons to apologize for the government’s role in the schools.
While the then-prime minister spoke at length at the time, Coburn says many people at this point are less interested in oratorical skills than they are in the meat of the matter.
“He got to speak at length, but it’s like, no, saying I’m sorry just takes a few seconds,’ ” Coburn says. “I think Indigenous peoples are sick of hearing ‘I’m sorry.’ They want to see the action.”
While it’s unlikely that the Pope would take the new apology word for word, at a time when the church’s staff is likely trying to figure out their own script, the statement — which Coburn calls “concise and sharply worded” — sends a clear signal to the Vatican.
“I think it’s nice to put the Catholic Church on notice of, ‘We’ve been waiting a long time, so if you’re going to come over here, do the job right. Don’t leave it half-done.’ ”
The full text of the suggested apology is below:
On behalf of the Catholic Church, I acknowledge and accept responsibility for the grave harms that were caused by our participation with Canada, in implementing Canada’s Indian Residential School assimilation policy.
In its implementation of Canada’s assimilation policy, the Catholic Church adopted practices and procedures designed to prohibit First Nation, Métis and Inuit children from speaking their languages, practicing their cultures and learning about their rights by separating them from their families and communities.
Most children in the care and control of the Catholic Church Indian Residential Schools endured malnutrition, neglect, trauma and substandard education. Many died under questionable circumstances, many from diseases, especially tuberculosis, which disproportionately infected children at Indian Residential Schools due to negligence by our Catholic Church employees.
Many of these children were buried in unmarked graves at the school sites and their parents were not notified of their deaths and never given the opportunity to bring their children home for proper burial. Other children suffered physical abuse, psychological abuse, spiritual abuse and sexual abuse by Catholic Church caregivers and other Indian Residential School employees. When these abusers were exposed, the Catholic Church failed to report them to the proper authorities, and instead, transferred them to other schools.
The belief underlying the policy of assimilation was that First Nations, Métis and Inuit cultures and spiritual beliefs were inferior to that of Europeans. This Eurocentric view can be traced to the Papal Bulls of 1455 and 1493, when my predecessors, of those times, denied all sovereignty to non-Christian First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. In implementing the Papal Bulls, the colonizers seized all property, claimed ownership of “discovered” “new” lands, and enslaved and eliminated all the original owners of the land, which history confirms were First Nations people.
The Catholic Church now acknowledges that the consequences of its participation in implementing Canada’s assimilation policy upon First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were profoundly damaging and had a lasting impact on First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples and their communities.
The Catholic Church accepts that its role in Canada’s assimilation policy which removed children from their homes in order to separate them from their families and communities with the objective of destroying their languages, traditions and cultures was wrong, and I apologize.
In moving towards a better, more productive and respectful relationship, I commit the Catholic Church to support the co-development of processes with First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples for the renunciation of the Doctrine of Discovery, reparations, restitution, repatriation, and real conciliation and the reconciliation of their respective rights.
On behalf of the Catholic Church, I apologize for the role it played in carrying out Canada’s policy of assimilation through its Indian Residential School system.
On behalf of the Catholic Church, I extend my profound remorse and sincere apology to each and every survivor, your families and communities. I humbly ask for your forgiveness.”With files from The Canadian PressAlex Boyd is a Calgary-based reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @alex_n_boyd