Vatican City, Apr 1 (EFE).- Pope Francis on Friday apologized for the role of the Catholic Church in Canada’s residential school system and the abuses suffered by Indigenous communities under the policies of forced cultural assimilation during the 19th and 20th centuries.
The head of the Catholic Church made the remarks Friday in the last of a week-long series of meetings at the Vatican with representatives of First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities, where he also announced his intention to visit Indigenous territories in Canada in July.
Canada’s state-funded residential schools, the majority administered by the Catholic Church, separated Indigenous children from their families and became a hotbed of abuse and torture.
Last year alone thousands of unmarked graves were detected on the grounds of former residential schools across Canada.
“All of this has aroused my indignation and shame,” Francis said before “asking God” for forgiveness for the “deplorable behavior of members of the church.”
“I ask your forgiveness,” he told the visiting Indigenous delegations, who have waited for an apology from the church for years.
Francis’ predecessor Benedict XVI previously met with Indigenous leaders but did not publicly apologize for the role of the Catholic Church in the mistreatment and abuse of Indigenous children.
In May 2021, the remains of over 215 children were detected in unmarked graves on the site that once belonged to the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. The shocking discovery catapulted the issues back onto the national agenda in Canada and beyond.
Canadian officials had until 1997 entrusted Catholic, Anglican and Protestant institutions with the education of Indigenous children, who were forced into boarding school systems, sometimes without parental consent, and banned from using their Indigenous names, language or observing traditions.
In many schools, Indigenous children suffered malnutrition and died from treatable illnesses. They were not granted the same education as non-Indigenous Canadians, but rather given domestic tasks and other chores to carry out.
An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children passed through the residential school system between 1890-1997 and at least 4,000 died due to the inhumane conditions in which they were forced to live. EFE