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,” Pope 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.