Abuse at Native residential schools in Canada
Church apologies: 1994-NOV to 2002
1994-NOV-10: The Roman Catholic Church issued a non-specific apology:
We have been unable to find any apology by the Canadian Conference of
Catholic Bishops of the
Roman Catholic Church in
Canada for the physical, sexual, spiritual, emotional, and cultural abuse of Natives
in its residential schools.
However, Pope John Paul II did issue a generic apology within an Apostolic Letter
Tertio Millennio Adveniente. In it, the pope said that in spite of the
cultural conditioning of times past, the Church had an obligation to express
regret for the "weaknesses of so many of her sons and daughters who sullied
[the Church's] face."
No admission of error on the part of the Church itself
is possible, because of the Catholic belief of the Church's historical purity
and absence from error. But the pope was able to express regret at actions by
past members of the Church. Unfortunately, it was probably not very
meaningful for Canadian Natives, because of its lack of specificity. Neither
Canada nor its residential schools were mentioned. Also not mentioned were:
1998-OCT-27: Apology by the United Church of Canada:
Reverend Bill Phipps, Moderator of The United Church of Canada read an
apology on behalf of the denomination. It was directed to former students of United Church Indian Residential
Schools, their families and communities. It said, in part:
Moderator of The United Church of Canada, I wish to speak the words that
many people have wanted to hear for a very long time. On behalf of The
United Church of Canada, I apologize for the pain and suffering that our
church's involvement in the Indian Residential School system has caused. We
are aware of some of the damage that this cruel and ill-conceived system of
assimilation has perpetrated on Canada's First Nations peoples. For this we
are truly and most humbly sorry." 2
2002-MAR-12: The Pope issued a second generic apology:
The pope included three prayers in his Mass which verged on an apology. The
first prayer is most closely related to abuse in Canadian residential schools.
However, the Pope asks for the forgiveness of God, not forgiveness from the
- In a "Confession of Sins Committed in Actions Against Love, Peace, the
Rights of Peoples, and Respect for Cultures and Religions" the pope
"...Christians have often denied the Gospel; yielding to a
mentality of power, they have violated the rights of ethnic groups and
peoples, and shown contempt for their cultures and religious traditions: be
patient and merciful towards us, and grant us your forgiveness!"
- In a "Confession of Sins Against the Dignity of Women and the Unity of
the Human Race" he prayed:
"Lord God, you willed the diversity of
peoples within the unity of the human family. At times, however, the equality
of your sons and daughters has not been acknowledged, and Christians have been
guilty of attitudes of rejection and exclusion, consenting to acts of
discrimination on the basis of racial and ethnic differences..."
No reference was made to acts of discrimination by the church towards persons
of minority sexual orientations.
- In a "Confession of Sins in Relation to the Fundamental Rights of the
Person" he prayed:
"...For all those who have committed acts of
injustice by trusting in wealth and power and showing contempt for the 'little
ones.' " 3,4
If you know of any church apologies that we have missed, please
- Pope John Paul II, "Tertio Millennio Adventiente,"
- The Right Reverend Bill Phipps, "[Apology] To former students of United
Church Indian Residential Schools, and to their families and communities"
- "Residential School Project Newsletter," 2000-MAR, at:
- Pope John Paul II, "Universal Prayer: Confession of sins and asking for
Copyright © 2000 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-JUN-03
Latest update: 2008-JUL-04
Author: B.A. Robinson