Trudeau Will Contact Pope on Abusive Aboriginal School Apology

  • Move follows appeal by truth and reconciliation commission
  • Canada's residential schools were run by churches, government

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he will speak to Pope Francis about the Catholic Church’s participation in a former network of schools where aboriginal children were subject to deadly abuse and neglect.

Trudeau made the comments following a report this week by a formal inquiry into the abuse of children in church-run aboriginal residential schools going back to the 19th century. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued 94 recommendations, including a request the Pope apologize.

Asked whether he would request the Pope apologize for the church’s role, Trudeau said he plans to have a “constructive engagement” with Francis on the matter. The federal government and the United Church of Canada, which also helped run the residential schools, have already made formal apologies.

“I look forward to having a conversation with His Holiness about this,” Trudeau told reporters Wednesday in Ottawa, the day after he was presented the report. “I’m not going to pretend that it is my job to order other governments or other organizations to do anything.”

The residential schools operated for more than a century, taking in at least 150,000 aboriginal children with the aim of assimilation, the commission reported Tuesday. Children were removed under duress from their parents and more than 3,200 died in a system where administrators weren’t even required in some cases to identify the deceased. The last residential schools were closed in the 1990s.

The commission’s request was for an apology “to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.”

It’s important to make progress on reconciliation for past deeds, Perry Bellegarde, leader of the Assembly of First Nations, said after his meeting with Trudeau.

“The Catholic Church is the only church that hasn’t formally apologized to the survivors,” Bellegarde said. “Getting an audience with His Holiness is very important to bring about healing and reconciliation for their role in the imposition of the residential school system.”

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