OTTAWA – Lorraine Whitman, the President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, has written to Pope Francis to express her deep disappointment with his failure to apologize on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church for the pivotal role it played in the emotional, physical and psychological abuse of Indigenous children at church-run Indian Residential Schools.
“I am pleading with you today to issue the formal apology that is owed by the Catholic Church to all those impacted by the residential-school system,” wrote Ms. Whitman. “The other churches involved in the darkest chapter of Canadian history have done so. Only the Catholic Church, which ran 60 per cent of these institutions, has refused.”
Ms. Whitman said in her letter that, while Indigenous people and many other Canadians are grieving the finding of 215 unmarked graves of children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, she does not understand why the Pope has described the discovery as “shocking.”
“We have known about those graves since 2015 because we read the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that said many thousands of children died and the school and their bodies had yet to be found,” wrote Ms. Whitman, noting that the TRC had also called for an apology from the church.
She took issue with the Pope’s call for political and religious authorities of Canada to shed light on what happened at the schools. Those words ring hollow, she wrote, when Catholic officials are still withholding documents that would help survivors understand what was done to them.
Ms. Whitman called upon the Pope to ask church officials in Canada to assist Indigenous communities that are now in the process of looking for other graves. She also asked him to endorse the TRC’s determination that the effect of the schools was “cultural genocide.”
An apology that was made by Catholic bishops in Canada for the abuses at the schools is not an apology on behalf of the Catholic Church, wrote Ms. Whitman. Nor was the expression by former Pope Benedict of “sympathy and powerful solidarity” an apology, she wrote.
“Holy Father, please join with us in righting these wrongs,” wrote Ms. Whitman. “Please issue the apology on behalf of the Church that is being demanded. When that happens, we can move forward on the path of reconciliation together.”