Pope Francis has apologised and asked for forgiveness over the role of the Catholic Church in the abuse of Indigenous children within Canada’s residential school system.
The Pope said he was “indignant” and “ashamed” at the “deplorable conduct” of some members of the Catholic Church.
The apology follows meetings at the Vatican this week between the Pope and delegations from Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
During their meetings, delegates shared their experience of the system which forcibly removed Indigenous children from their families and communities in the name of integration.
Addressing delegates in Italian, the Pope said, “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.”
He continued, “It is chilling to think of determined efforts to instill 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 inter-generational traumas.”
The Pope also promised to visit Canada later this year.
At least 150,000 Indigenous children were part of the brutal residential system which saw them subjected to abuse and terrible conditions in boarding schools.
Many of the residential schools were run by the Catholic Church.
The apology follows the discovery of mass graves in the grounds of former residential schools.
A 2015 report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated that at least 6,000 children died at the schools but said that the exact number was unknown.
Following the Pope’s apology, Bishop William McGrattan of Calgary, Vice President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), said, “As Catholics, we believe in the restorative power of apologies. But acknowledging wrongdoing is only one step of the healing journey.
“We all have a role to play in healing the wound that was opened up through a history of colonialism and must be deeply committed to this responsibility.”
The CCCB said it had committed $30m “towards healing and reconciliation initiatives, a commitment to ensure residential school documents are made available to survivors, and ongoing work to provide education for our clergy, consecrated men and women, and lay faithful, on Indigenous cultures and spirituality”.
In a statement, Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, praised the “bravery and determination” of survivors in their pursuit of justice.
“This apology would not have happened without the survivors who told their truths directly to one of the institutions responsible, and recounted and relived their painful memories,” he said.
“For decades, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis have been calling on the Pope to recognize the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse their children endured while attending these residential schools. For decades, they have been waiting for an apology.
“Canada’s history will forever be stained by the tragic reality of the residential school system, which forcibly separated at least 150,000 Indigenous children from their families and communities, often at great distances, where they were prohibited from practising their culture and traditions, and speaking their languages. For survivors, their families, and communities, the painful legacy of the residential school system lives with them every day.
“Last year, the findings of unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools across the country forced Canadians to reflect on our country’s failures and their impacts that continue to be felt today.
“As a country, we must never forget the unthinkable tragedies that took place and we must honour the children who went missing and never came home.”