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Canadian commission insists Pope apologise for abusive residential schools

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Archbishop Gerard Pettipas of Grouard-McLennan in Alberta, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Chief Perry Bellegarde, Justice Murray Sinclair, and Gov. General David Johnston attend the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's closing ceremony in Ottawa, Ontario. CNS photo/Blair Gable, Reuters

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigating Catholic residential schools in Canada has said Pope Francis should personally apologise to the schools’ survivors and their communities.

The report calls the Holy Father to come to Canada within one year and apologize for “the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional and physical and sexual abuse of aboriginal children who attended the Catholic-run schools.”

The commission, set up in 2008, recorded the history of 139 aboriginal, Inuit and Metis residential schools with insitutionalised sexual and physical abuse, affecting 150,000 children. The schools separated children from their families and assimilated them into western way of life, stripping them of their language and culture. This “cultural genocide” was found to have left the children with psychological and emotional scars that continues to impact aboriginal people, generations later.

The report said that for “over a century, the central goals of Canada’s aboriginal policy were to eliminate aboriginal governments; ignore aboriginal rights; terminate treaties; and, through a process of assimilation, cause aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, and racial entities in Canada”.

Residential schools, about 60 per cent of which were Catholic, were “based on an assumption that European civilisation and Christian religions were superior to aboriginal culture, which was seen as being savage and brutal”.

Archbishop Gerard Pettipas, who chairs the committee of Catholic organisations that ran residential schools, said he was unsure how an apology from Pope Francis, with its specific deadline and location, would happen. The TRC, he said, has found it challenging to understand the Church’s decentralised structure.

The report contains a range of calls to action besides requesting an apology from the Pope, including addressing child welfare, education, language and cultural issues.

Archbishop Pettipas said he would present the calls to action to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops annual plenary in September.

“I will call on [the bishops] to take this seriously, to see in what ways they can fulfill if not the letter then certainly the spirit of these calls to action,” said the archbishop of Grouard-McLennan in Alberta.

He continued: “It’s for the Church in Canada to be involved in further gestures, not for the Holy Father.”

The archbishop made it clear that, from his perspective, the teachers and administrators at residential schools did not intended to be malicious.

“It was ministry… I find it hard to judge them and say, you individuals, you tried to kill the Indian in the child,” said the archbishop. “They wouldn’t have seen that. From today’s insight, we might say that’s what happened, but that wasn’t the intent.”

Despite the tragedies uncovered by the TRC, Archbishop Pettipas said the whole process has been “very, very good for Canada”.

He said: “I think the fruit of this whole exercise is indeed going to be in a new and a better relationship globally, across Canada between natives and non-natives. It’s going to have to involve everybody. This is not on one person’s shoulders.”