OTTAWA (CCN) — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he will ask Pope Francis if he would come to Canada to make an apology for Indian residential schools.
Trudeau told journalists Dec. 16, the day after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released its final report, that he would make the request. Among the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action published last June was a call to the pope to apologize to “survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools.”
“We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this report and to be delivered by the pope in Canada,” the TRC document said.
Asked if he would “urge” the pope to apologize, Trudeau said told journalists different churches, including the Catholic Church, “are very much engaged with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and I’m certainly intending to work with the Catholic Church, including the Holy See, to move forward on implementing that recommendation, to ask him directly, to engage with this issue, yes.”
Trudeau explained it was not his “job to order other governments or other organizations to do anything,” but said he sought constructive engagement with “multiple levels of different organizations” that must recognize their role “in this terrible part of Canada’s past.”
Asked if he personally thought the pope should apologize, Trudeau said, “I look forward to have a conversation with His Holiness about this.”
At the closing ceremony of the TRC Dec. 15, TRC chair Justice Murray Sinclair expressed hope Pope Francis would answer the TRC’s call for an apology.
“Pope Francis’ recent willingness to acknowledge the past offences of his church in South America towards the indigenous peoples there also gives us hope that he on behalf of the Catholic Church will issue an apology to the survivors of residential schools in this country,” Sinclair said Dec. 15 at the release of the TRC’s final report.
Sinclair was referring to Pope Francis’ remarks in Bolivia last July in which he admitted “with regret: many grave sins were created against the native peoples of America in the name of God.”
The Holy Father told Bolivians: “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offences of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.”
“Together with this request for forgiveness and in order to be just, I also would like us to remember the thousands of priests and bishops who strongly opposed the logic of the sword with the power of the cross,” he said. “There was sin, a great deal of it, for which we did not ask pardon. So for this, we ask forgiveness. But here also, where there was sin, great sin, grace abounded through the men and women who defended the rights of indigenous peoples.”
Canada’s Papal Nuncio Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi said the pope, since he is a head of state, must be invited by the Canadian government as well as the Catholic bishops of Canada.
Bonazzi pointed out the pope is postponing visits to some Italian cities that had already been planned. “He is postponing them to be more available in Rome for the Jubilee Year of Mercy,” he said.
“It seems the agenda for 2016 is totally filled,” the nuncio said. “There is, in my opinion, no room for a visit in 2016.”
He said the Holy Father already has invitations to come to Canada on his desk from Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre to mark the city’s 375th anniversary in 2017. The pope also has an invitation from Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard.
In 2017 Canada also marks the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper met with Pope Francis last June, and faced criticism from both the Liberals and the New Democrats for not expressly bringing up the TRC call for an apology.
“I imagine during this visit to Pope Francis in June, the prime minister (Harper) might have voiced this,” the nuncio said. “Of course, the Holy Father has been informed about this (call to action) request.”
The nuncio said that the question of a possible visit must be explored with liberty of expression on both sides.
But Bonazzi also said Canadians can play a role through prayer to help bring about a visit by Pope Francis.
“Now, as far as I can sense and perceive, what is important to transmit to him also are the deep reasons, the deep spiritual and cultural motivations that can enlighten and sustain this request in order to let him see that it is not only a formal request contained in a document, but also is coming from a part of the soul of Canada.”
At the same time, when the Holy Father receives these requests, “I am sure he is listening with all his heart as a pastor,” Bonazzi said. “I can assure that there will be truly deep attention.”
The nuncio also pointed out that “travelling at the age of the Holy Father is not easy.”
“He himself said, ‘I am elderly and travelling takes its toll,’ ” Bonazzi said, noting Pope Francis is now 79.
The nuncio said he believes a visit to Canada by the Holy Father will be a fruit of a corporate work of prayer and offering “like a choir” so “if it is that must be done, is useful to be done, it may be fulfilled.”
The Truth and Reconciliation committee has never acknowledged a formal apology Pope Benedict XVI made in 2009 when he met personally with a former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
In 2009, the pope met in the Vatican with a delegation of native leaders under Phil Fontaine. The explicit purpose of the meeting, which was arranged by Archbishop James Weisgerber, former president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, was to let Benedict apologize for church complicity in residential schools.
“We wanted to hear him say that he understands and that he is sorry and that he feels our suffering — and we heard that very clearly,” Fontaine said after the meeting.
That meeting followed a similar apology made in Parliament by then prime minister Stephen Harper.
“We were looking for a similar apology from the Catholic Church, and I was a witness to that today,” Fontaine said six years ago. Native leaders “heard what we came here for,” he said.