For more than a century and running to the late 20th century, Canada separated more than 150,000 Indigenous children from their parents and forced them to go to residential schools, many of which were run by the Catholic church, where they were emotionally, physically and sexually abused and punished for things like speaking their mother languages. A government survey in the 1920s showed that half the kids who were forced to attend these schools contracted tuberculosis, according to the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre.
Before now, the Vatican has resisted calls to apologize for the horrifying actions. But on Monday, Pope Francis visited the site of one of the former schools and begged for forgiveness from the survivors of the abuses. The apology came during a trip to Canada where the Pope will be interacting with different Indigenous groups, including a parish where Indigenous language is incorporated into its sermons.
“I am sorry. I ask for forgiveness, in particular, for the ways in which many members of the church and of religious communities cooperated, not least through their indifference, in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of that time, which culminated in the system of residential schools,” said Pope Francis.
“I do know when two people have apologized, we feel better,” said Chief Greg Desjarlais of the Frog Lake First Nation in northern Alberta, a survivor of one of the residential schools, on Sunday. “But our people have been through a lot … Our people have been traumatized. Some of them didn’t make it home. Now I hope the world will see why our people are so hurt.”