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Editorial: Sorrow’s not enough

Pope Francis. — stock photo
Pope Francis. — stock photo - Submitted

The refusal by Pope Francis to apologize to victims of abuse a native residential schools in Canada is striking hard at survivors and their families in the Atlantic region.

Abuses at these schools have been well documented by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Equally well known is the role of the Catholic Church in operating those schools.

A papal apology is one of 94 recommendations made by the TRC. During a visit to the Vatican last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally asked the Pope to consider the gesture. So far, the answer is no. That refusal is hard to understand — and is unacceptable.

Canadian bishops said in a recent letter that Pope Francis has not shied away from recognizing injustices faced by Indigenous peoples, but he can’t personally apologize for residential schools.

The pontiff has offered apologies to other victims of church abuse around the world, but has trouble doing so in Canada. Why?

As an example, more than 1,000 children were placed at the Shubenacadie Residential School in Nova Scotia. The apparent purpose was to “take the Indian out of the Indian,” just as it was at residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador — which was then its own country, prior to Confederation with Canada.

What happened at those schools was cultural genocide. Girls and boys were taken from their homes and thrust into a foreign world, with poor living conditions, corporal punishment, overcrowding, forced labour, hunger and a “white” curriculum. Children were punished for speaking their own language.

The physical, mental, sexual and other abuse suffered by those children will forever be a stain on this country. Children, grandchildren and families of survivors also suffered. It’s a tragic legacy which continues today.

A crucial step towards forgiveness and reconciliation is a full apology from the Pope.

Atlantic Mi’kmaq Chief Brian Francis of Abegweit First Nation is speaking out, calling on the Pope to promote healing. He knows community members personally who were victims of abuse and the tragic effect it had on their lives.

This week, Canadian MPs voted 269-10 to extend a formal invitation to Pope Francis to apologize in person to Indigenous peoples. The Pope hasn’t ruled out a visit to Canada, but meanwhile is encouraging Canadian bishops to continue working with Indigenous peoples on reconciliation.

That’s not good enough. Church sorrow is not enough. Canada apologized for the schools in 2008 and other Christian denominations all did the same.

The Parliamentary motion should start the process for Canadian bishops and the pontiff to do the right thing. Pope Francis should come to Canada and deliver the long overdue mea culpa in person.

A basic tenet of the church is forgiveness and repentance of sin. The residential school tragedy offers the church an opportunity to practise what it preaches.

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