Canadian Catholic bishops offer apology for church’s role in residential schools

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has issued a public apology to Indigenous people in Canada for the suffering endured at residential schools and says it will continue providing records to identify Indigenous children buried in unmarked graves.

Addressing the “Indigenous peoples of this land,” the bishops issued a statement today saying that they “acknowledge the suffering experienced in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools.”

“Many Catholic religious communities and dioceses participated in this system, which led to the suppression of Indigenous languages, culture and spirituality, failing to respect the rich history, traditions and wisdom of Indigenous peoples,” the statement said.

“We acknowledge the grave abuses that were committed by some members of our Catholic community; physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, cultural and sexual.”

The statement also “sorrowfully acknowledges” the lingering trauma suffered by former residential school students and their families.

“The Catholic Bishops of Canada express our profound remorse and apologize unequivocally,” says the statement.

As a part of the conference’s pledge to address its role in the cultural genocide of Indigenous people in Canada, it says that it will raise funds across the country to support regional Indigenous groups with projects defined at the local level. 

The conference also pledges to make an effort to listen to Indigenous Peoples, including the survivors of residential schools, in order to “educate our clergy.”

Unmarked graves

Since the early spring, several Indigenous communities across the country have reported that hundreds of unmarked graves have been located at the sites of former residential schools.

The remains of 215 children were discovered in Kamloops, B.C. Indigenous officials in Saskatchewan also said ground-penetrating radar had detected more than 700 unmarked graves at the former Marieval Indian Residential School east of Regina.

In June, the Lower Kootenay Band in British Columbia said a search with ground-penetrating radar had found what are believed to be 182 human remains at a site close to a former residential school in Cranbrook.

The CCCB said it would do its part to help locate more unmarked graves at residential schools.

“We commit ourselves to continue the work of providing documentation or records that will assist in the memorialization of those buried in unmarked graves,” the statement said.

In June, the CCCB announced national Indigenous leaders will meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican in December. A delegation of First Nations, Métis and Inuit will meet with the Pope separately between December 17 and 20.

At the time, Winnipeg Archbishop Richard Gagnon said the Pope is open to delivering an apology in Canada at an “opportune time.” He said the Pope is expected to take a path similar to the one that led to his formal apology in Bolivia in 2015.

“What the Pope said and did in Bolivia is what he will do in Canada,” he said. “But he will gear it for the specifics of the Canadian situation.”

In today’s statement, the bishops said they “pledge to work with the Holy See and our Indigenous partners on the possibility of a pastoral visit by the Pope to Canada as part of this healing journey.”

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