Trudeau wants Vatican apology for church-run school abuses

Justin Trudeau demands Vatican apology after 215 children’s bodies were found buried at former Indian Residential School where indigenous children were ‘assimilated’ into Canadian society

  • The Canadian PM called on the Catholic Church to ‘step up’ over the scandal 
  • He said ‘As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed’ by the church’s position
  • Remains of 215 children have been found at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia in Canada 
  • The remains were found with the help of a ground penetrating radar specialist after long-held suspicions about the fate of missing students 
  • One survivor told how children would suddenly disappear from the school without explanation, and sexual and physical abuse was common 
  • Many of those killed are feared to have died of diseases including tuberculosis, with survivors recalling how they endured physical and sexual abuse
  • Canada’s residential school system forcibly separated more then 150,000 indigenous children from their families from 1863 to 1998
  • A six-year Truth and Reconciliation Commission into the now-defunct system found in 2015 that it constituted ‘cultural genocide’

Justin Trudeau has demanded an apology from the Catholic church after 215 children’s bodies were found at a school for indigenous children it ran.

The Canadian prime minister suggested Friday that Pope Francis himself should say sorry following last month’s discovery of the mass grave at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia in Canada.

Trudeau said:  ‘As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed by the position that the Catholic Church has taken now and over the past many years.

‘When I went to the Vatican a number of years ago I directly asked His Holiness, Pope Francis, to move forward on apologizing, on asking for forgiveness, on restitution, on making these records available, and we´re still seeing resistance from the church, possibly from the church in Canada.

‘It´s not showing the leadership that quite frankly is supposed to be at the core of our faith, of forgiveness, of responsibility, of acknowledging truth,’ Trudeau said.

Justin Trudeau called on the Catholic church to apologize for the Indian Reservation School scandal, with 215 children found buried under one shuttered school last week 

Trudeau added that the Canadian government has ‘tools’ it can deploy if the church does not release documents detailing what it knew about abuse at the schools and when, but did not comment further. 

From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 First Nations children in Canada were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools as an effort to assimilate them into Canadian society. 

They were separated from their parents to do so, and suffered horrendous abuse.  

The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse was rampant in the schools, with students beaten for speaking their native languages.

Trudeau said Catholics across the country should reach out to bishops and cardinals on this issue.

‘We expect the church to step up and take responsibility for its role in this and be there to help with the grieving and healing including with records.

‘It´s something the United Church and others have done. It´s something we are still waiting for the Catholic Church to do.’ 

The Vatican spokesman did not respond to requests for comment this week about demands for a formal apology from the pope.

The children whose remains were found were students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia (pictured) that closed in 1978

215 pairs of children’s shoes are seen on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery as a memorial to the 215 children whose remains have been found

Former Pope Benedict met with a group of former students and victims in 2009 and told them of his ‘personal anguish’ over their suffering, a meeting that was termed an expression of sadness and solidarity.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops announced in 2018 that the pope could not personally apologize for residential schools, though he has not shied away from recognizing injustices faced by Indigenous people around the world.

The archbishop of Vancouver, however, apologized on Wednesday.

The United, Presbyterian and Anglican churches already have apologized for their roles in the abuse, as has the Canadian government, which has offered compensation.

Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk´emlups te Secwepemc First Nation in British Columbia has said the remains of 215 children were confirmed last month at the school in Kamloops, British Columbia, with the help of ground-penetrating radar. So far none has been excavated.

Casimir said her nation wants a public apology from the Catholic Church. She adds that the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which ran almost half of Canada´s residential schools, has yet to release any records about the school.

Casimir said the nation´s findings are so far preliminary and she expects a final report, including technical details, will be ready by the end of the month.

‘This is not a mass grave site but rather unmarked burial sites that are to our knowledge also undocumented,’ she said.

In 1920, the Canadian Government passed a law making it compulsory for children between 7 and 15 to attend the residential schools. Many children died of abuse and neglect, and infectious diseases such as tuberculosis

The Kamloops Indian Residential School was Canada´s largest such facility and was operated by the Roman Catholic Church between 1890 and 1969. The federal government then ran it as a day school until 1978, when it was closed. Nearly three-quarters of the 130 schools were run by Catholic missionary congregations.

A papal apology was one of the 94 recommendations made by a government-established Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Trudeau asked the pope to consider such a gesture during his visit to the Vatican in 2017.

Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said that in his rebuke, Trudeau didn’t point out that residential schools were created and funded by the government. ‘The Catholic Church ran most of the schools but devoted few of its own resources to them beyond personnel paid for by the government,’ Wiseman said.

The Kamloops school was established in 1890 and operated until 1969, its roll peaking at 500 during the 1950s when it was the largest in the country. Children were banned from speaking their own language or practicing any of their customs. This undated archival photo shows a group of young girls at the school

None of the bodies have been identified, and it remains unclear how they died. Survivors fear more bodies will be found at the same site – as well as at the 80 other former residential school sites across Canada. 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted his horror at the discovery last week. He said: ‘The news that remains were found at the former Kamloops residential school breaks my heart – it is a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history. 

‘I am thinking about everyone affected by this distressing news. We are here for you.’  

‘It’s a harsh reality and it’s our truth, it’s our history,’ Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir told a media conference Friday. 

‘And it’s something that we’ve always had to fight to prove. To me, it’s always been a horrible, horrible history.’  

Casimir said they had begun searching for the remains of missing children at the school grounds in the early 2000s, as they had long suspected official explanations of runaway children were part of a cover-up by the state.    

Residential schools in Canada: A shocking history of abuse 

More than 150,000 indigenous children were forcibly taken from their families and placed in residential schools from 1863 to 1998.

The system was created by Christian churches and the Canadian government in the 19th century in an attempt to ‘assimilate’ and convert indigenous youngsters into Canadian society.

There, they were banned from speaking their own languages or any of their traditional practices.

In 2008, the Canadian Federal Government formally apologized for the practice, and launched a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

The investigation found at least 4100 students died while attending the schools, many from abuse or neglect.  

Infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, malnourishment and accidents were also common causes of death at the schools. 

The commission into ill treatment of indigenous children brought out horror stories of sexual and physical abuse and neglect.  

Many of those who survived the schools suffered chronic illnesses and disabilities. 

Released in 2015, the commission’s report admitted the policy was ‘cultural genocide’.

It established The Missing Children Project to document the thousands of children who died while attending the schools. 

The project had found 4100 before the latest discovery at Kamloops. 

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