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Religious Tolerance logo


Church abuses in residential schools.

Asking Pope Francis for an apology for the
Church's cultural genocide of native people:

Image from a TRC report 1

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About residential schools:

The story so far (augmented from information in this essay's menu):

The arrival of Europeans to North and South America at the end of the 15th century CE marked a major change in Native societies throughout the Americas. Millions died due to diseases imported from Europe, programs of slavery, and outright extermination. Invading Europeans and their Christian missionaries generally looked upon Native Spirituality as a worthless and dangerous superstition inspired by the Christian devil, Satan.

During the late 19th century and much of the 20th century, the Canadian government's goal for their Native populations was assimilation. Sometimes this is referred to contemptuously as "Making apples" -- changing the culture and religion of Native peoples so that they become "white" on the inside, even as their skin remained red. The goal was to force Natives to vanish in plain sight, within the larger, predominately white, society. This is frequently referred to as cultural genocide: wiping out an entire culture.

A key component of this policy was the church-run residential schools system, which were operated for over a century, from 1857 -- a decade before Confederation -- to 1995 when the last school was finally closed. A total of about 150,000 Native students passed through this system. Many had been kidnapped without permission from their family of origin. They were often forbidden to talk with each other in their native languages, and physically punished if they did. All or essentially all were subjected to physical, sexual, spiritual, and/or cultural abuse.

Initially, about 3,000 students were believed to have died in the schools, largely due to the spanish flu after World War I, and tuberculosis. By 2015, this number had risen to 6,000 known fatalities. The odds of a given child dying in a native Residential School was 1 in 25. This is almost identical to the odds of a Canadian soldier dying in action during World War II!

The federal government established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to study the "... abuse inflicted on Indigenous peoples through the Indian residential school system, and the harmful legacy of those institutions." 2 The TRC officially started on 2008-JUN-02.

On 2008-JUN-11, Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered a formal apology in the House of Parliament on behalf of the federal Government to former students, their families and affected communities in Canada for the its role in the operation of the residential school system. 3

For six years, the TRC travelled throughout Canada listening to testimony from over 6,750 aboriginal witness/survivors. 4 During 2015-JUN, the Commission issued an interim 360 page report that documents the stories of some of the survivors: of being taken unwillingly from their parents, and forcibly relocated to residential schools where they were abused, neglected, and had been subjected to attempts to destroy their language, religion, culture, and traditions.

There were believed to be about 80,000 former students still living as of 2015 out of the approximately 150,000 who were processed in the schools. 4

This video is a Canadian Broadcassting Commission (CBC) report in mid-2015 about the residential schools:


The Commission's Interim document made 94 recommendations for changes in policies, programs and the:

"... way we talk to, and about, each other."

The final written report will be released in the future and is expected to be six volumes in length. It will be available in English, French and six aboriginal languages. 4

2016-DEC: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commits to implementing all of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendations:

Trudeau announced the creation of a national council for reconciliation to implement the TRC's 94 final recommendations. He said that his government had already initiated some action on 41 recommendations out of those 45 "calls to action" that fall under federal jurisdiction. One of the key recommendations of the TRC was the creation of a second inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, which is now underway.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has been established at the University of Manitoba. It has launched a web site at

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2017-MAY: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Pope Francis to issue an official apology on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada:

Up to 60% of the residential schools in Canada were operated by the Roman Catholic Church. 4

During 2017, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops attempted to explain why the Catholic Church itself or the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops were not responsible for the cultural genocide and thus had no reason to apologize for the atrocities. They placed the following report on its web site:

"Apology on Residential Schools by the Catholic Church:

The Catholic community in Canada has a decentralized structure.  Each Diocesan Bishop is autonomous in his diocese and, although relating to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, is not responsible to it.

Approximately 16 out of 70 Catholic dioceses in Canada were associated with the former Indian Residential Schools, in addition to about three dozen religious communities.  Each diocese and religious community is legally responsible for its own actions. The Catholic Church as a whole was not associated with the Residential Schools, nor was the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

These are the reasons why an apology on Residential Schools has not been made by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops or in the name of the Catholic Church in Canada.

However, in a brief submitted to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in November 1993, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops did acknowledge that 'various types of abuse experienced at some residential schools have moved us to a profound examination of conscience as a Church.'

Already in 1991, Canadian Catholic Bishops and leaders of men and women religious communities had issued a statement that 'We are sorry and deeply regret the pain, suffering and alienation that so many experienced' at the Residential Schools.

There have been, and continue to be, numerous initiatives by Catholic agencies and institutions in Canada to help heal the sufferings of the Aboriginal Peoples. The process of healing and reconciliation is ongoing.

Here are some of the apologies that have been made over the years by Roman Catholic groups in Canada.

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Joanna Smith, writing for The Canadian Press, said:

"In 2009, the previous pope, Benedict XVI, did express 'sorrow' on behalf of the Catholic Church for the 'deplorable conduct' by some members of the church in their treatment of indigenous children in residential schools. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report said this did not go far enough, especially since it was not made in public." 6

One of the 94 recommendations made by the TRC in mid-2015 was that the federal government seek an official apology by the Roman Catholic Church for its abuses in the residential school system.

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2017-MAY: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the Vatican and asked Pope Francis to release an official apology:

After the meeting, Trudeau said that Pope Francis was open to the idea of issuing an apology. He said that the Pope:

"... reminded me that his entire life has been dedicated to supporting marginalized people in the world. ... We talked about how important it is to both highlight the scientific basis of protecting our planet, with the moral and ethical obligation to lead and to build a better future for all people on this earth. ... I also had an opportunity to have a deeply personal and wide-ranging, thoughtful conversation with the leader of my own faith."

Global News has produced a series of videos about the meeting in the Vatican:


Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said he remains hopeful the Pope will deliver a formal apology. He said:

"Pope Francis has a lot of influence on world thinking and is a very, very popular pope. He’s a very influential individual and to have him come would be a ... huge undertaking on that road to reconciliation." 8

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Image from a TRC report, downloaded from
  2. "Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Canada)," Wikipedia, as on 2017-MAY-30 at:
  3. "Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, undated, at
  4. Daniel Schwartz, "Truth and Reconciliation Commission: By the numbers," CBC News, 2015-JUN-02, at:
  5. "Apology on Residential Schools by the Catholic Church," Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2017, at:
  6. Joanna Smith, "Trudeau to ask Pope Francis for formal apology over church’s role in residential schools," The Canadian Press, 2017-MAY-29, at:
  7. Joanna Smith, "Justin Trudeau presses Pope for official apology for residential schools," Global News, 2017-MAY-29, at:
  8. Joanna Smith, "Pope Francis seemed open to the idea of a residential school apology, Trudeau says," The Star (Toronto, ON) 2017-MAY-29, at:

How you may have arrived here:

 Home page > Religious violence > Canadian Residential school abuse > here

or Home page > "Hot" religious topics > Canadian Residential school abuse > here

or Home page > Religious information > Basic info > Canadian Residential school abuse > here

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Copyright © Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Author: B.A. Robinson
Originally posted on: 2017-JUN-
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