Pope Francis expresses ‘sorrow and shame’ for Catholic role in abuse against Indigenous peoples

Hannah Brockhaus   By Hannah Brockhaus for CNA


Pope Francis meets Canadian Indigenous leaders at the Vatican on April 1, 2022. / Vatican Media. See CNA article for full slideshow.

Vatican City, Apr 1, 2022 / 07:50 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Friday expressed his “sorrow and shame” for the role Catholics have played in the abuse of Indigenous peoples in Canada, especially in residential schools.

During a meeting with representatives of the Métis, Inuit, and First Nations groups at the Vatican on April 1, the pope condemned colonization, saying he was sorry for the historic evil committed against Canadian Indigenous peoples.

He also said he would like to visit them in their “native lands,” indicating that he hopes to travel to Canada for the July 26 feast of St. Anne.

Pope Francis, who had private meetings with the Métis, Inuit, and First Nations delegations during the week, said “listening to your voices, I was able to enter into and be deeply grieved by the stories of the suffering, hardship, discrimination and various forms of abuse that some of you experienced, particularly in the residential schools.”

“It is chilling to think of determined efforts to instill a sense of inferiority, to rob people of their cultural identity, to sever their roots, and to consider all the personal and social effects that this continues to entail: unresolved traumas that have become intergenerational traumas,” he said.

He condemned the colonization which broke the Indigenous peoples away from their native land and ways of life, stating that “in this way, great harm was done to your identity and your culture, many families were separated, and great numbers of children fell victim to these attempts to impose a uniformity based on the notion that progress occurs through ideological colonization, following programs devised in offices rather than the desire to respect the life of peoples.”

The pope said that learning about these situations made him feel deep indignation and shame, “because it is not right to accept evil and, even worse, to grow accustomed to evil, as if it were an inevitable part of the historical process.”

“I feel shame — sorrow and shame — for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you, in the abuses you suffered and in the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values,” he stated.

“All these things are contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he underlined. “For the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God’s forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart: I am very sorry.”

“Clearly, the content of the faith cannot be transmitted in a way contrary to the faith itself: Jesus taught us to welcome, love, serve and not judge; it is a frightening thing when, precisely in the name of the faith, counter-witness is rendered to the Gospel,” he added.

Pope Francis also said he was grateful for good Christians who, “in the name of the faith, and with respect, love, and kindness, have enriched your history with the Gospel.”

“It is my hope,” Francis continued, “that our meetings in these days will point out new paths to be pursued together, instill courage and strength, and lead to greater commitment on the local level. Any truly effective process of healing requires concrete actions. In a fraternal spirit, I encourage the Bishops and the Catholic community to continue taking steps towards the transparent search for truth and to foster healing and reconciliation.”

“Over the past few days, I have listened attentively to your testimonies. I have brought them to my thoughts and prayers, and reflected on the stories you told and the situations you described. I thank you for having opened your hearts to me, and for expressing, by means of this visit, your desire for us to journey together,” he said.

This journey, he noted, can help Indigenous peoples rediscover and revitalize their cultures, and the Catholic Church to grow in love and respect for their traditions.

“I wish to tell you that the Church stands beside you and wants to continue journeying with you,” Pope Francis said.

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  1. Awfully quiet on the mass graves accusation investigated by third party sources.

    The Canadian government had the ultimate authority over indigenous schools. For decades nothing was done because Catholic oversight was, without exception, wrong and no indigenous child ever benefited from their care but would have fared much better abandoned by the Canadian government as that was their preferred policy for decades?

  2. There was a policy in the US, specifically the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to assimilate Native Americans to Western European, or ‘Anglo’ white culture. Some BIA medical center [IHS] policies in the Dakotas and the Southwest pressured women to be sterilized.
    “In 1976, a U.S. General Accountability Office [GAO] investigation found that four Indian Health Service areas were noncompliant with IHS policies regulating consent to sterilization. Inadequate consent forms were a recurring problem; the most common form did not record whether the elements of informed consent had been presented to the patient or what they were told prior to obtaining consent, and physician misunderstanding of IHS regulations was widespread. The investigation found that these four service areas sterilized 3,406 women between the years 1973 and 1976, including 36 cases where women under the age of 21 were sterilized despite a declared moratorium on these sterilizations. Limitations of the GAO investigation were quickly noted. Senator James Abourezk pointed out that while even 3,406 sterilizations would represent a startling proportion of Native American women, this number was the result of a report which examined only four out of twelve IHS areas” (Wikipedia).
    I recall the name of Senator James Abourezk of S Dakota, one of the few voices in protest. “He was the first Greek Orthodox Christian of Lebanese-Antiochite descent to serve in the US Senate” (Wikip).
    Insofar as schools for indigenous children managed by the Catholic Church in the US, mainly Franciscans in the Southwest, Jesuits in the Dakotas there is no such evidence of allegedly virtual genocidal policies. The evidence of that is the flourishing of the Pueblo nations, Laguna, Acoma, et al who are approx 90% Catholic and have retained their native languages and customs.
    Similarly, the Apache who are largely Catholic, and Navajo approx 70% Catholic have retained their language and culture despite attempts to ‘de-indianize ‘them when children were forcibly taken from their homes and placed in BIA schools.
    I’m not sure about Canada, but it goes against my faith and reason to believe the accounts coming out of Canada that Catholic religious were purposely involved in widespread maltreatment and responsibility for deaths. In Canada schools for Native Americans were established and financed by the Canadian government and often operated by Catholic religious orders as the only available resource. Canadian government funding was miserably low for these schools, usually placed in remote frigid areas to keep them from contact with their tribe. It’s inevitable that there would be much higher death rates than in ‘white’ schools. Although, as we’ve learned abuse of school children in Catholic schools, as well as other denominational and non denominational similar type boarding schools was widespread.
    Colonization, now that Marxist egalitarianism has achieved religiosity in the West is roundly condemned, too often sanctimoniously. Exploration, conquest, extreme exploitation [specifically the Congo under Leopold of Belgium, illustrated in Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad’s novella masterpiece] was an evil, and also a good considering it was the British and French who ended slavery on that continent and brought social order, the accruements for civilization. We might consider an elitist engineered open border migration policy a reverse form of colonization of the civilized. Egalitarianism in the extreme seen in the revival of Aztec human sacrifice in Mexico, and the religious exploitation of the indigenous Amazonian, child sacrifice, infant burial and all.

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