Canadian Catholic bishops apologized Friday in a statement to the country’s indigenous peoples for the atrocities carried out for over a century at church-run residential schools — months after over a thousand unmarked graves were discovered at former school sites across Canada.
The statement from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops did not directly acknowledge the mass graves.
In June the Canadian government called for a formal papal apology after the remains were found.
The residential school system was described as “cultural genocide” by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2015.
Pope Francis is set to meet with a delegation of indigenous leaders in December in Rome.
“Many Catholic religious communities and dioceses participated in this system, which led to the suppression of Indigenous languages, culture and spirituality, failing to respect the rich history, traditions and wisdom of Indigenous Peoples,” the bishops’ statement says. “We acknowledge the grave abuses that were committed by some members of our Catholic community; physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, cultural, and sexual. We also sorrowfully acknowledge the historical and ongoing trauma and the legacy of suffering and challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples that continue to this day.”
From the 1970s until as recently as 1997, over 150,000 indigenous children were made to enroll at Canadian residential schools funded by the government and run by the Catholic, Anglican and United churches. The children were forbidden from using their native languages, forcibly converted to Christianity, and subjected to mistreatment including physical and sexual abuse; many children died from neglect, disease and suicide. Canada’s residential school system was originally inspired by a similar program for Native Americans in the United States, where many of the same horrors occurred.
“A century of trauma at US boarding schools for Native American children” (National Geographic)