Canada’s state-sanctioned schools forcibly separated about 150,000 children indigenous children from their families, subjecting many of them to physical and sexual abuse in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called “cultural genocide.”
“For the deplorable behavior of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask forgiveness from God and I would like to tell you from the bottom of my heart that I am very pained,” Francis said on Friday. The Pope said he hoped to visit Canada in July. read more
But for survivors, the historic apology alone isn’t enough.
Saa Hiil Thut’s former school in Kamloops, British Columbia was among several former residential school sites where the suspected remains of children were found last year, thrusting the issue once more to the forefront.
Now in his 70s, he said he was moved by an apology he thought would never come. He told Reuters it is “a good first step.”
“Could be empty words. … If Jesus came on the planet now, I think he would tell them to fix it.”
Indigenous delegates, leaders and survivors Reuters spoke with called on the Catholic Church to return indigenous artifacts, release residential school documents, rescind centuries-old colonial doctrines and pay compensation.
The president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami also asked the Pope to intercede personally in the case of a priest accused of abusing children.
“With an apology comes action,” said Jennifer Wood, who along with her siblings survived residential school. Last week, she said, she remembered her mother.
“Five of her children were taken in one sweep of an afternoon.”
As part of a 2006 settlement agreement, an entity incorporated by the Catholic Church agreed to pay C$79 million ($63.2 million) to an Aboriginal healing foundation, to survivors through services, such as counseling, and further fundraising.
According to the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre, a 2015 court ruling let the Catholic Church off the hook with tens of millions from the 2006 settlement unpaid.
A spokesperson for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said they have committed to paying C$30 million over five years and fundraising is under way.
“Catholic entities need to do more to address the suffering experienced in Canada’s residential schools,” spokesperson Neil MacCarthy said.
Donald Worme, who was commission counsel for Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said the Pope’s apology left him “exceptionally moved for the sake of survivors.”
But if it is not followed by action, he may take the church to court again.
“If they continue in their pattern of intransigence and obfuscation … indigenous people will have no alternative but to recommence political and legal strategies, including litigation.”