Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday he has urged Pope Francis to come to Canada to apologize for church-run boarding schools where hundreds of unmarked graves have been found, and he said Canadians are “horrified and ashamed” by their government’s longtime policy of forcing Indigenous children to attend such schools.
Indigenous leaders said this week that 600 or more remains were discovered at the Marieval Indian Residential School, which operated from 1899 to 1997 in the province of Saskatchewan. Last month, some 215 remains were reported at a similar school in British Columbia.
From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools, most run by Roman Catholic missionary congregations, in a campaign to assimilate them into Canadian society.
Indigenous leaders have called for Pope Francis to apologize — a demand echoed again Friday by Trudeau, who said the pope should visit Canada to do it.
“I have spoken personally directly with His Holiness, Pope Francis, to impress upon him how important it is not just that he makes an apology but that he makes an apology to indigenous Canadians on Canadian soil” Trudeau said.
“I know that the Catholic church leadership is looking and very actively engaged in what next steps can be taken.”
Following that discovery of the British Colombia remains, Francis expressed his pain and pressed religious and political authorities to shed light on “this sad affair.” But he stopped short of a formal apology.
Don Bolen, archbishop of Regina, Saskatchewan, posted a letter to the Cowessess First Nation on the archdiocese’s website this week in which he repeated an apology he said he made two years ago.
Nearly three-quarters of the 130 residential schools were run by Catholic missionary congregations, with others operated by the United, Presbyterian and Anglican churches, which earlier apologized for their roles in the abuse.
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