|Pope Will Reach out to Natives in Canada
By Laura-Julie Perreault
April 15, 2009
Pope Benedict XVI will express regret to Canada's aboriginal peoples this month for the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the abuse of thousands of children in residential schools, says the leader of the Assembly of First Nations.
"We're expecting a clear statement from the Pope recognizing the suffering of the aboriginal people of Canada and the role of the Catholic Church in that suffering," assembly chief Phil Fontaine told La Presse yesterday. "This will be a historic moment for aboriginals, survivors of residential schools, and for Canadian society."
It is unknown whether the Pope will issue a formal apology, however, said a spokesperson for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"We know the Pope will produce a text in which he will express his solicitude, recognize what has occurred and manifest regret," Gérald Baril said.
Fontaine, himself a survivor of abuse at two residential schools, will lead an aboriginal delegation to Rome for an audience with the Pope on April 29. He expects the pontiff to issue a public statement after the meeting, which will also include a number of Canadian bishops.
"The relationship between the First Nations of Canada and the Catholic Church has been stained by the actions of the past. This meeting with the Pope will allow the process of reconciliation to begin," Fontaine said.
An estimated 150,000 aboriginal children were forced into Canada's Indian residential schools between 1920 and the 1970s, and many were subjected to physical and sexual abuse.
Nearly three-quarters of the schools were run by Catholic Church missionary congregations.
The United, Anglican and Presbyterian churches have apologized for their roles in the abuse. Last June, the Canadian government apologized for the residential schools system, and for the policy of aggressive assimilation that they represented.
Fontaine credits Winnipeg Archbishop James Weisgerber with arranging the papal audience. Weisgerber first raised the issue of Canada's residential schools with the pontiff on behalf of the Canadian bishops' conference in November, Fontaine said.
Weisgerber previously had invited Fontaine to address the confer-ence's annual general meeting, an invitation Fontaine accepted.
The Canadian delegation's audience with the Pope will take place immediately after the Wednesday general audience, which usually draws 10,000 people.
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