Indigenous leaders and school survivors in Canada have dismissed Pope Francis’ expression of sorrow—and not an apology—for the gruesome discovery of a mass grave containing the remains of 215 children at a former Catholic residential school.
Delivering his Sunday blessing in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis expressed his sadness about the discovery at the former boarding school for indigenous Canadians and called for respect for the native peoples’ rights. However, the Pope did not offer an apology.
The indigenous community in Canada has demanded an apology from the Pope for the incident as the residential schools were mostly run by the Catholic Church on behalf of the government.
Bobby Cameron, chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan, rebuked the Pope and said, “How hard is it for the Pope to say: I'm very sorry for the way our organization treated the First Nations people, the First Nations students during those times, we are sorry, we pray.”
The discovery of the remains of the children, some as young as three years old, last month at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, has reopened old wounds among the indigenous population in Canada.
The people once again complained about the lack of information and accountability around the residential school system, which forcibly separated indigenous children from their families.
Kamloops survivor Saa Hiil Thut, 72, said the perpetrators have not been held responsible for the suffering he endured, stressing that “the culprits sort of get off scot-free.”
“The Pope won't say, 'You know what? I heard there was [thousands of] cases of physical and sexual abuse in those residential schools run by our church. He won't say that. He won't say ‘There's 215 children in an unmarked grave in Kamloops’ and probably every residential school in Canada,” Thut said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described the discovery as heartbreaking and said the church must take responsibility for its role in the schools.
Many of the children separated from their homes by the church’s school system between 1831 and 1996 were subjected to abuse, rape and malnutrition.