As of: 27.10.2021 6:34 p.m.
Hundreds of indigenous children’s graves have been discovered since May on properties of former church boarding schools in Canada. Pope Francis has now announced that he will travel to the country. This could be an opportunity for a papal apology.
Pope Francis has agreed to travel to the country amid revelations of the abuse and death of thousands of indigenous children in former boarding schools in Canada. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Canada had invited him – “also in the context of the long-standing pastoral process of reconciliation with the indigenous peoples,” as the Vatican announced. Francis wanted to support the ongoing efforts.
The time of the trip is still open. It simply said: “Francis has signaled his willingness to visit the country at a time to be fixed”. The pilgrimage could be the occasion for a papal apology.
More than 1000 graves discovered
Since the end of May, more than 1,000 graves with the remains of children have been discovered by ground penetrating radar on former boarding school properties in Canada. In the 19th and 20th centuries, it is estimated that more than 100,000 children of indigenous mothers were – often forcibly – placed in Canadian homes. Many of the more than 130 institutions nationwide were run by Catholic religious orders. They should introduce the children to the “Christian civilization” on behalf of the state.
Often the children were not allowed to speak their mother tongue. An unknown number of children and adolescents were physically or sexually abused; many died of infectious diseases.
Demands for apology from the Church
Indigenous tribal leaders last asked Francis to apologize on behalf of the Catholic Church on Canadian soil. Similar demands came from the Canadian government. Canada’s Minister of Indigenous Relations, Mark Miller, said he expects the Pope to “fully appreciate the harm” that has been done to indigenous peoples. “In the broad context of what we call reconciliation for indigenous peoples, this full recognition is something the Holy Father himself has long been waiting for,” Miller said.
Meeting with survivors in the Vatican
The Pope had already agreed to meet with indigenous survivors from the notorious Canadian boarding schools in December. The Bishops’ Conference announced that Francis had invited delegations of the survivors to the Vatican and that they would meet in three groups – First Nations, Metis and Inuit – from December 17th to 20th. Finally, he will lead an audience with all three groups.
Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins said the December meetings would help lay the groundwork for the Pope’s trip to Canada. “Over the course of several days, Pope Francis will hear directly from those who have suffered through authentic listening and dialogue.”
The Catholic bishops of Canada apologized a few weeks ago for the suffering caused by the Church’s involvement in the former boarding system for indigenous children. “We recognize the serious abuse that has been committed by some members of our Catholic community: physically, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, culturally and sexually,” said the bishops’ statement on the issue that has been simmering for months. They stressed that many Catholic religious communities and dioceses were involved in the boarding school system, which had resulted in the suppression of the language, culture and spirituality of the indigenous people.