Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, himself a practising Catholic, says the decision by Pope Francis to refuse to apologize for the role the Catholic Church played in the dark history of residential schools in Canada has left him “disappointed.”
The prime minister had personally asked the Pope to do so during a visit to the Vatican in 2017 and a papal apology was one of more than 90 recommendations issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
That recommendation asked that the Pope issue an apology similar to the one offered by Pope Benedict XVI to Irish victims of decades of sexual abuse by priests in 2010.
But on Wednesday, a senior representative of the church in Canada released a letter saying Pope Francis felt he could not personally apologize and Trudeau told reporters on Parliament Hill shortly afterwards that the decision was not what he had hoped for from the Pope.
“Obviously I am disappointed in the Catholic Church’s decision not to apologize for their role in residential schools,” he said.
“Reconciliation is not just between governments and indigenous Canadians, it’s between non-Indigenous Canadians and Indigenous peoples as well. We will keep working with communities, keep working with individuals on the path of reconciliation because we know that taking responsibility for past mistakes and asking forgiveness is something that is core to our values as Canadians.”
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The Catholic Church operated roughly two-thirds of the 130 residential schools that operated in Canada between the 1880s and 1996, when the last school closed.
More than 150,000 Indigenous children attended the schools where thousands later revealed they had been subject to emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
The Canadian government issued a formal apology for the schools in 2008.
In the letter refusing an apology for residential schools, Bishop Lionel Gendron, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said while the Pope took the matter seriously, he had still decided not to apologize.
“The Catholic Bishops of Canada have been in dialogue with the Pope and the Holy See concerning the legacy of suffering you have experienced,” Gendron wrote.
“The Holy Father is aware of the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which he takes seriously. As far as call to action #58 is concerned, after carefully considering the request and extensive dialogue with the bishops of Canada, he felt that he could not personally respond.”
The other churches that operated the remainder of the residential schools have all issued apologies.
Indigenous-Crown Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said the government will continue to push for a papal apology.