The Pope apologized and promised a “serious investigation” into what happened during a speech at a meeting with Indigenous peoples in Edmonton, Alberta on Monday.
Indigenous leaders have long called for a papal apology for decades of wrongs inflicted on Indigenous children, who suffered abuse and the erasure of Indigenous culture in residential schools across the country.
“I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the way in which many members of the Church and religious communities cooperated, notably through their indifference, in the projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of the time. , which resulted in the boarding school system,” the pontiff said.
Last year, hundreds of unmarked graves were discovered on the grounds of former residential schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
And the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada reported that more than 4,000 Indigenous children died of neglect or abuse in residential schools, many of them run by the Catholic Church.
“Faced with this deplorable evil, the Church kneels before God and implores his forgiveness for the sins of her children,” the Pope said. “I humbly ask forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the indigenous peoples.”
And the pontiff stressed that his apology is only the first step in righting those wrongs.
“An important part of this process will be to seriously investigate the facts of what happened in the past and to help survivors of residential schools have an experience of healing from the traumas they suffered,” a- he declared.
Francis, 85, had a trip to Africa earlier this month canceled due to problems with his knee.