Catholic bishops apologize to survivors of residential schools

A leader of Canada’s National Assembly of Catholic Bishops says he hopes an apology for damage to residential schools could mark a turning point in the church’s relations with indigenous peoples, but some leaders within the community say It remains to be seen whether the expression of remorse will be backed up by meaningful action.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops apologized “unequivocally” on Friday for the abuses committed by members of the church community who participated in the operation of residential schools.

Vice President Bishop William McGrattan acknowledged that the church has a history of apologizing, but said the one-page statement ratified at a full meeting of bishops last week reaffirms its commitment to the reconciliation process and outlines “tangible” steps. to follow. expanded in the future.

“The First Nations people have continually called for greater responsibility and accountability from the church,” the bishop of Calgary said Sunday. “This is a long journey. And hopefully we can start over and renew that relationship.”

The bishops have pledged to provide records that could help “commemorate” students believed to be buried in unmarked graves, raise funds for initiatives backed by indigenous leaders and work for the Pope to visit Canada.

The national head of the Assembly of First Nations, RoseAnne Archibald, said she appreciated the full apology of the bishops, but noted that their promises do not comply with the actions that the indigenous community has requested.

“The words of the apology speak of a commitment by the (Catholic) church to the path of healing towards First Nations and indigenous peoples,” Archibald said in a statement Friday. “Only time will tell if concrete actions will follow the bishops’ words of contrition.”

Archibald said she was disappointed that the bishops did not pass a resolution to formally invite the Pope to Canada to apologize to the survivors of residential schools, their families and communities, one of the calls to action set out in the Commission’s report on Truth and Reconciliation 2015.

McGrattan suggested that an apology might not be far off as indigenous leaders prepare to travel to the Vatican in December to meet with Pope Francis.

“We anticipate that this delegation going to Rome will be the first step,” he said. “I think it’s important to make sure those steps are done correctly.”

Archibald also expressed reservations about the bishops’ fundraising effort, noting that the church raised less than one-sixth of a $ 25 million fund promised for reconciliation and healing as part of the Residential Indian Schools Settlement Agreement. more than a decade ago.

The Catholic bishop hopes the residential school apologies will improve indigenous relations. #CDNPoli #ResidentialSchoolSurvivors #ResidentialSchools #OrangeShirtDay

McGrattan noted that the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops was not a party to that agreement, but said the “somewhat disappointing” fundraising result underscores the need for a new approach.

Last spring’s discoveries of hundreds of unnamed graves at former residential school sites prompted calls for the church to release records that could help identify children believed to be buried, often without their families knowing of. his death.

The church has also faced strong criticism for not providing all the documents about the schools requested by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

McGrattan said that many parishes near the burial sites plan to share sacramental records, such as birth, baptism and death records, to help families rest their loved ones.

But he maintained that the church should exercise discretion when it comes to the release of such documents.

“We just don’t want, in a sense, to allow information to sometimes be given in a general way, where loved ones should be the first to receive it and understand the story,” he said. “We are willing to work with them, but simply disclosing information in a way that could harm them is also something we do not want to do.”

More than 150,000 indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools for more than a century when the Canadian government enacted a policy to assimilate indigenous children, separating them from their culture, families and languages.

The Catholic and Anglican churches ran most of the schools where children were subjected to wanton emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

This Canadian Press report was first published on September 26, 2021.

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