April 1, 2022 – Today marks the conclusion of the Indigenous delegation to the Holy See, culminating with an historic apology from Pope Francis for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s residential school system.
The Holy Father expressed “sorrow and shame” for the abuse and lack of respect for Indigenous identities, culture and spiritual values in the residential school system. He said, “I ask for God’s forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart: I am very sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon.”
“We are deeply grateful to each of the Indigenous delegates who travelled with us to the Holy See to share their experiences and desires for a brighter future for their people,” said Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) President, the Most Rev. Raymond Poisson. “The Holy Father has heard first-hand the stories of those who suffered at the hands of Catholic Church members, and has responded with compassion, remorse, and a genuine desire for truth, justice, and healing.”
The Holy Father’s apology was informed by private encounters between March 28th and April 1st with 32 Indigenous Elders, knowledge keepers, residential school survivors and youth from across Canada.
Delegates shared a range of lived experiences including from their time in residential schools, the resulting loss of culture and language, and complex relationships with the Catholic faith that continue to this day. Through shared prayers, the exchange of gifts and the telling of powerful stories, Pope Francis was moved by their courage, their commitment and their resilience in the face of suffering. He emphasized his shame for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system, and re-committed to visiting with them on Canadian soil.
The delegation follows more than three years of dialogue between Canada’s Catholic Bishops and Indigenous partners, including the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), the Métis National Council (MNC), and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), with a goal of learning and discerning how best to support them on the journey of healing and reconciliation. As this dialogue is ongoing, we have taken several important steps to support a more hopeful future, including a $30 million pledge towards healing and reconciliation initiatives, a commitment to ensure residential school documents are made available to survivors, and ongoing work to provide education for our clergy, consecrated men and women, and lay faithful, on Indigenous cultures and spirituality.
“As Catholics, we believe in the restorative power of apologies. But acknowledging wrongdoing is only one step of the healing journey. We all have a role to play in healing the wound that was opened up through a history of colonialism and must be deeply committed to this responsibility,” said CCCB Vice President, the Most Rev. William McGrattan. “As we prepare for the Holy Father’s eventual pilgrimage to Canada, the relationships forged this week and the lessons learned from Indigenous delegates will continue to guide and inspire us.”
We heard a call from Dr. Wilton Littlechild to walk where there’s no path and create a new one for people to follow. Every delegate who courageously spoke to their experiences has taken up this call, and we are grateful that Pope Francis responded in kind. We look forward to walking on this path together.