Pope ready for historic apology for school abuse in Canada

By Nicole Winfield and Peter Smith

MOSCOWAS, Alberta (AP) — Pope Francis issued a historic apology Monday for the Catholic Church’s cooperation with Canada’s “disastrous” policy of indigenous residential schools, saying it forced indigenous people into Christian society. have destroyed their cultures, torn apart families and destroyed backward generations.

“I’m so sorry,” Francis said to applause from school survivors and local community members gathered at a former residential school south of Edmonton, Alberta. He called the school’s policy a “catastrophic mistake” that was inconsistent with the gospel and said further investigation and remediation were needed.

In the first event of his weeklong “pilgrimage,” Francis traveled to the lands of four Cree nations to pray at a cemetery and then offer a long-sought apology at a nearby powwow ceremony. Four chiefs carried the pope in a wheelchair to the site near the former Armenian Indian Residential School, and after he spoke presented him with a feathered headdress, making him an honorary leader of the community.

“I humbly ask for forgiveness for the evil done by so many Christians against indigenous peoples,” Francis said.

His words went beyond his earlier apology for the “deplorable” mistreatment of missionaries and instead accepted institutional responsibility for the church’s cooperation with Canada’s “disastrous” integration policy, which the country’s The Truth and Reconciliation Commission said it amounted to “cultural genocide”.

More than 150,000 indigenous children in Canada were forced to attend government-supported Christian schools from the 19th century until the 1970s to isolate them from the influence of their homes and culture. His goal was to Christianize and integrate them into mainstream society, which previous Canadian governments considered superior.

Ottawa has acknowledged that physical and sexual abuse continues in schools, with students being beaten for speaking their native languages. This legacy of abuse and family isolation is now cited by Indigenous leaders as the root cause of epidemic rates of alcohol and drug addiction on Canadian reservations.

The discovery of hundreds of potential burial sites at former schools last year drew international attention to the legacy of Canadian schools and their counterparts in the United States. The revelations prompted Francis to comply with a truth commission demand that he apologize for his role in the abuse of Catholics on Canadian soil. Catholic religious orders operated 66 of the country’s 139 residential schools.

Some in the crowd on Monday wept as Francis spoke, while others applauded or remained silent as he listened to his words, which were delivered in Spanish and then translated into English.

“I waited 50 years for this apology and I finally heard it today,” said survivor Evelyn Korkamaz. “Part of me is happy, part of me is sad, part of me is numb.” However, he added that he hoped to hear from the pope a “plan of action” on what he would do next for reconciliation, including the release of church files on the fate of children who died in schools. Is.

Many in the crowd wore traditional clothing, including colorful ribbon skirts and vests with indigenous motifs. Others donned orange shirts, which have become symbols of residential school survivors, recalling the story of a woman whose beloved orange shirt, a gift from her grandmother, was confiscated at a school. was taken and replaced with a uniform.

“It’s something that needs to be held, not just for people to hear, but for the church to be accountable,” said Sandy Harper, who joined her sister and a Saskatchewan church group in honor of her late mother. Safar, who studied in a residential school.

Harper called the pope’s apology “very genuine.”

“They recognize that this road to reconciliation will take time, but they are really with us,” he said.

Despite the solemnity of the ceremony, the atmosphere was at times euphoric: chiefs arrived at the site to the beat of a hypnotic drum, elders danced and the crowd cheered and chanted war songs, victory songs and the end. I sang a healing song.

“I wasn’t disappointed. It was a very important opportunity,” said Phil Fontaine, a residential school abuse survivor and former head of the Assembly of First Nations who went public with his story of sexual abuse in the 1990s. But Laya said in an interview with the Associated Press.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who last year apologized for the “incredibly harmful government policy” in regulating the residential school system, also attended, along with other officials.

As part of a settlement of a lawsuit involving the government, churches and some 90,000 survivors, Canada paid reparations amounting to billions of dollars transferred to local communities. The Catholic Church of Canada says its dioceses and religious orders have provided more than $50 million in cash and in-kind support and hopes to add another $30 million over the next five years.

While the Pope acknowledged the charge, he also clarified that the Catholic missionaries were simply cooperating with and implementing the government’s assimilation policy, which he described as the “colonial mentality of the powers that be.” Notably he did not refer to the 15th century papal decrees that provided religious support to the European colonial powers in the first place.

Jeremy Bergen, a church apologist and professor of theology and religious studies at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario, said Francis made it clear he was apologizing for the actions of “members of the church” but the institution Not completely.

“The idea is that, as the body of Christ, the church itself is without sin,” he said in an email.

“So when Catholics do bad things, they’re not really acting on behalf of the Church,” Bergen said, a controversial idea that many Catholic theologians disagree with.

Francis said the policy marginalized generations, suppressed indigenous languages, caused physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse and “immeasurably affected relationships between parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren.” ” It called for further investigations, a possible reference to local demands for more access to church records and personnel files of priests and nuns to determine who was responsible for the abuses.

“Although Christian charities were not absent, and there were many wonderful examples of devotion and care for children, the overall impact of the policies associated with residential schools was devastating,” Francis said. “What our Christian faith tells us is that this was a catastrophic error, inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The first pope from the United States had vowed to make the trip, even though a torn knee ligament forced him to cancel a visit to Africa earlier this month.

The six-day trip — which will also include stops in the north in Quebec City and Iqaluit, Nunavut — follows Francis’ spring meetings with First Nations, Metis and Inuit delegations at the Vatican. The meetings ended on April 1 with an apology for the “deplorable” abuses at Francis’ residential schools and a promise not to do it again on Canadian soil.

Francis recalled that one of the delegation gave him a set of beaded moccasins to symbolize the children who never returned from schools, and asked him to return them to Canada. Francis said that in those months he “lived with my feelings of sadness, anger and shame” but that in returning them he hoped they could also represent a way to walk together.

Organizers of the event said they would do everything they could to ensure survivors could attend, bus them and provide mental health counselors, knowing the event would be something Can be painful for people.

Later Monday, Francis was scheduled to visit the Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, a Catholic parish in Edmonton devoted to Indigenous peoples and culture. The church, which was rededicated last week after being restored by fire, has incorporated religious language and rituals into the worship.


Associated Press writers Rob Glaze in Toronto and Holly Meyer in Nashville, Tennessee contributed to this report.


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