Pope Francis apologizes for abuse of Indigenous children in Canadian schools, promises investigation

Speaking to thousands of Indigenous peoples outside Edmonton, Alb., Monday afternoon, Pope Francis apologized for the rampant abuse of Indigenous children by Christian missionaries in state-funded residential schools across Canada that lasted for more than a century.

In a wide-ranging speech, the pope pleaded for forgiveness from the community, reaffirmed his empathy for survivors and descendants, and promised an investigation into the misconduct.

“I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples,” Francis, sitting in a white chair with two Indigenous chiefs on either side, said to the crowd. “In the face of this deplorable evil, the Church kneels before God and implores his forgiveness for the sins of her children.”

Francis’ apology commences a week-long “penitential pilgrimage” across the country to atone for the conduct of Christian missionaries, who, along with the Canadian government, forcibly removed at least 150,000 Indigenous children from their homes and banned their languages as well as religious and cultural practices — forcing assimilation into the country’s Christian society.

The historic address, held near the site of a former residential school in Maskwacis, exemplifies the Church’s efforts to reconcile with Indigenous communities and address the generational trauma incurred by descendants of victims. Abuse at the schools, which were established by the Canadian government, dates back to the 1880s and continued until the 1990s.

For years, Canadian activists have called on the Vatican to address the horrific systemic abuse that reverberates through Indigenous communities today. But it wasn’t until the discovery of a mass grave — thought to be the remains of more than 200 children from a former residential school — in British Columbia last year that the Church began to consider action. Another mass grave containing more than 750 remains tied to a residential school was found shortly after in Ontario, and hundreds of unmarked graves across the country are also believed to be connected to residential schools.

While Francis’ visit signals the Church’s commitment to reconciliation, Indigenous activists have expressed that they want more than words.

“Many of you and your representatives have stated that begging pardon is not the end of the matter. I fully agree. That is only the first step,” Francis said, though he did not announce further details.


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