What the Pope left out of the apology to residential school survivors

OTTAWA — Pope Francis delivered a historic apology Monday to survivors of Canada’s residential schools. Most of those government-funded institutions, in which thousands of indigenous children suffered abuse and neglect, were run by the Catholic Church.

In the run-up to the pope’s visit, indigenous leaders made specific calls about what they wanted to see in the apology and where they hoped it would lead next.

This is what was missing:

A reversal of the Doctrine of Discovery

The Assembly of First Nations has been among the bodies that have most loudly called for a renunciation of 15th-century politics.

It was a Vatican decree that countries like Canada used to justify the colonization of indigenous lands.

The AFN says the doctrine ignores indigenous sovereignty and continues to have legal repercussions today.

After Pope Francis’ apology, delivered before an audience of survivors and others in Maskwacis, Alta., the pontiff faced an outcry from the crowd to renounce the doctrine.

An apology on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church as an institution

In his apology, the pontiff apologized “for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous Peoples.”

Pope Francis delivered a historic apology Monday to survivors of Canada’s residential schools. Most of those government-funded institutions, in which thousands of indigenous children suffered abuse and neglect, were run by the Catholic Church.

Murray Sinclair, who served as chairman of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said the pope’s apology “left a deep hole” by failing to acknowledge the role the church played in the residential school system and, in Instead, “blame the individual members.” .”

“It was more than the work of a few bad actors: This was a concerted institutional effort to remove children from their families and cultures, all in the name of Christian supremacy,” Sinclair said in a statement Tuesday.

The TRC had listed a papal apology as one of its 94 calls to action.

Cody Groat, a professor at Western University and a member of Six Nations of the Grand River in southern Ontario, says Pope Francis’ earlier apology to an indigenous delegation that traveled to see him in Rome was seen as flawed for a similar reason: to blame to people rather than to the institution.

Groat, whose grandparents attended a residential school operated by the Anglican Church, says people will see the language and terms the pontiff used in Monday’s apology in different ways, adding that he feels it is an improvement over the spring.

“When you use comments like apologizing in the name of the Christian faith, you are perhaps more acknowledging of a larger incident that occurred within a long history of colonialism.”

Any mention of sexual abuse or genocide

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in its papal apology, said it should address the Catholic Church’s role in the “spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse” of indigenous children in residential schools.

Pope Francis said the children suffered “physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse” but did not mention sexual abuse.

Groat says the pontiff’s words would have been carefully scrutinized before they were uttered and believes leaving out the sexual abuse was a conscious effort.

“That’s going to be something that a lot of people are going to call out,” he said.

“Not seeing Pope Francis directly acknowledge or apologize for sexual abuse, this is something that will again have to be followed up on.”

Also absent from the pontiff’s apology was the word “genocide.” The commission concluded in its 2015 final report that Canada’s residential school system amounted to “cultural genocide.”

A promise to release documents and artifacts.

One of the pending calls facing the Vatican and Catholic entities in Canada is to release more documents related to the operation of residential schools and the return of indigenous artifacts.

News last year that ground-penetrating radar had located what is believed to be hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential school sites across Western Canada underscored the need for governments and church authorities to hand over records that could help identify those who died, defenders and Indigenous leaders say.

Evelyn Korkmaz, a residential school survivor who attended St. Anne’s residential school, noted that the pope’s apology made no mention of handing over documents held by the church, which he said are desperately needed.

“These documents have our history,” he said. “These documents contain the identification of these children. It would give their families and loved ones closure. They all need closure to heal and move on. And this is all we ask is that those documents be released. They belong here in Canada.” They belong to us.”

The Métis National Council had also called for the return of artifacts held in the Vatican, which were taken from Métis people and communities.

A commitment to reparation and compensation

The apology and the pontiff’s visit to Canada come as the Catholic Church faces criticism for failing to meet financial commitments it has made to survivors.

One of the main points of contention is over a “best efforts” fundraising campaign that was signed by 48 Catholic entities as part of compensation to survivors under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement reached in 2006.

Of a set goal of $25 million for the fundraising effort, less than $4 million was raised before a judge ruled in 2015 that the entities were free of their obligations.

Last September, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops announced that it would donate $30 million to initiatives related to reconciliation over five years. Before Pope Francis arrived, the bishops announced that dioceses had contributed $4.6 million to the effort so far.

Some survivors and indigenous leaders have said the pontiff’s apology should be followed by further commitments to repair or restitution.

Cindy Blackstock, a child welfare advocate and executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Care Society of Canada, shared what she called a “to do” list on social media to follow up on the apology.

It included: “Ensuring that the church (not parishioners) provides reparations to the survivors of the residential schools and the properties of the children who died.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 26, 2022

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