Pope Francis has apologized for the unimaginable abuse at the hands of Catholic priests carried out over decades in Canada at Indigenous peoples residential schools.
“For the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask forgiveness of the Lord,” the pope said, after a week of talks with various delegations who aired their grievances with the pontiff. “And I want to tell you from my heart, that I am greatly pained. And I unite myself with the Canadian bishops in apologizing.”
The meetings came after 215 unmarked graves with remains of children were discovered in the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Nation residential schools in British Columbia. The school was run by the Catholic Church for decades and efforts and was eventually closed in 1978, after families said the clergy and Catholic educators there had a policy to extinguish the Indigenous culture and replace it with Catholicism.
The pope has expressed sorrow on behalf of the Catholic Church’s considerable problem with predatory pedophile priests, but he has rarely gone as far as he did Friday in calling the priests “deplorable” and in saying he was both ashamed and indignant over the abuses.
The pope then doubled down on his promise to visit Canada, at an audience in Rome attended by dozens of members of Metis, Inuit, and First Nations communities who then performed for the pontiff. The delegations had hoped to come in 2020, but the pandemic scuppered plans.
In the 19th century, more than 150,000 children were taken from their homes and forced into the residential schools to be indoctrinated into Christianity in a practice that carried on into the 1970s. Many were sexually and physically abused, often for speaking their native languages, and those who died were buried on the school grounds, often without telling parents of the deaths, according to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission which determined in 2015, before the graves were found, that the Catholic Church had carried out “cultural genocide.”
“I ask for God’s forgiveness, and I want to say to you with all my heart, I am very sorry,” Francis said in Italian—without a translator for those in attendance. At the end, the audience stood and applauded.