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Pope Refuses to Apologize for Residential Schools in Canada


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/04/02

The Roman Catholic Church with the assistance of the federal government of Canada oppressed in several ways the Indigenous populations of this country and the First Nations, Inuit, and Metis communities, at a bare minimum, deserve an apology from the “Vicar of Christ of Earth” or the leader of the Roman Catholic hierarchs for the residential school system (The Canadian Press, 2018).

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau express disappointment in the decision to nullify the opportunity for an apology based on the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system.

Many, many students and families were traumatized and damaged due to the residential schools.

Trudeau said, “Reconciliation is not just between government and Indigenous peoples, it’s between non-Indigenous Canadians and Indigenous peoples as well. We will keep working with communities, keep working with individuals on the path to reconciliation because we know taking responsibility for past mistakes and asking forgiveness is something that is core to our values as Canadians.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission contained 94 recommendations with one being a papal apology. It would be similar to the request for an apology to Irish sexual abuse victims of 2010 and the Indigenous Bolivians in 2015.

Former head of the TRC, Se. Murray Sinclair, stated that the lack of apology can reduce the potential for healing.

“I think there’s always been a bit of a schism between those Indigenous communities that have members of the Catholic church,” Sinclair said, “versus those who are not members of the Catholic church within their communities and I think this is going to add to that tension.”

Perry Bellegarde, the Assembly of First Nations National Chief, said an apology would help with the “healing and reconciliation.”

About 2/3rds of the 130 residential schools were Roman Catholic run and Indigenous children were disallowed from speaking their language, practicing their culture, and forced to assimilate to non-Indigenous culture. Carolyn Bennett, the Indigenous Relations Minister, said the federal government will continue to work for an apology from the Pope.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who is Roman Catholic, said any group involved in the residential school system should apologize, but did not mention the Roman Catholic Church by name or the Pope — even though the majority of the residential schools were run by the Catholic faith.

Scheer said, “I think that any group or institution that had a significant role in the residential school system should help move past and help get though this period of reconciliation by apologizing for the role they might have played.”

The abusive residential school system ran for more than a century. Robert-Falcon Ouellette, of Cree and Métis heritage, said, “If one man could simply snap his fingers, things would have been done a long time ago, but unfortunately that doesn’t happen in large institutions” (CBC News, 2018). He thinks the apology will eventually come.

One can hope. In the meantime, for Indigenous Canadians, especially those who believe in and follow the Roman Catholic Church now, this may feel disappointing, like a slap in the face, and cause for concern that maybe the talk of reconciliation from the government and the religious authorities that oppressed the Indigenous populations for well over a century, at least, are simply talking and not intending to act on the rhetoric.


CBC News. (2018, March 28). Pope’s decision to not issue apology ‘a slap in the face,’ residential school survivor says. Retrieved from

The Canadian Press. (2018, March 28). Trudeau disappointed by Pope’s decision not to apologize for residential schools. Retrieved from


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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