Indigenous Canadians at a residential school in Fort Resolution, in the Northwest Territories, in a picture from around 1936. Thousands died in the schools, and many were victims of physical and sexual abuse. OTTAWA — The past three popes have invested deeply in the forgiveness-begging business, offering official apologies for the church’s sins against Jews during World War II and Indigenous people in Bolivia, among others.
But Canada’s Roman Catholic bishops said late last month that Pope Francis would not apologize in the foreseeable future for the boarding schools where, for more than a century and a half, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend in an effort to obliterate their cultures and languages.
About 70 percent of children went to schools operated by the church.
Now, the Canadian House of Commons is poised to consider a motion to ask those bishops to return to Rome to seek a papal apology, fulfilling a specific recommendation for healing the rift between Canada and its Indigenous people by a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission that documented the abuses at the schools.
“This wasn’t the work of a few bad apples,” said Charlie Angus, a practicing Catholic and New Democratic Party member of Parliament who introduced the motion, which is supported by the government and likely to pass. “The church’s role was enormous.”
“I’ve seen very little pushback to my motion from Catholics,” Mr. Angus added. “People just don’t understand how after all the information that’s come out why the church isn’t moving on this.”
Thousands died in the schools, and many were victims of physical and sexual abuse. Some priests and nuns at the Catholic schools were involved in the most depraved abuses, including at an Ontario school where students were shocked on a homemade electric chair .
Since the release of the letter from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops saying the pope would not apologize now, Canada’s bishops have offered little clarity about why. Several Catholic lay people in Canada, including some who have worked within the church, say they believe the pontiff is following the advice of the Canadian bishops, who generally oppose the idea.
Some bishops in western Canada and the north — where most of the schools were — do support an apology. When the letter was released, Bishop Mark Hagemoen in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, noted the disappointment of the Indigenous community in a statement , adding, “I too regret that Pope Francis is not coming at this time.” The presumption is that an apology would be made during a visit.
Other bishops, in east Canada, say they believe that the church has already apologized and that in any event the pope’s actions shouldn’t be dictated by a government commission. They also are concerned about the cost of any papal visit because local dioceses would bear the expenses.
In recent years, papal infallibility, a concept officially codified by Pius IX nearly 150 years ago, seems to have been supplanted by papal apology.
Seven years before the death of John Paul II, in 2005, an Italian journalist, Luigi Accattoli, counted the pope as making at least 94 apologies. And that was before some of his big ones, like his “Day of Pardon” apology for the church’s sins against Jews, heretics, Gypsies, native peoples and women.
Pope Benedict XVI continued the trend, though the theologian argued that apologies were for the actions of individual Christians. His milestone apology went to clerical sexual abuse victims in Ireland.
Francis also has said sorry time and again — but never more forcefully and poignantly than he did this month in a letter to Chilean bishops that came after his own missteps on the […]
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