Pope apologizes to Canada’s indigenous people for abuse at church-run schools

Pope Francis apologized Friday to indigenous people for abuse committed at church-run residential schools in Canada, and said he hoped to visit the country in July.

“I ask for God’s forgiveness for the deplorable conduct of these members of the Catholic Church,” he said, telling Indigenous delegations at the Vatican it caused him “pain and shame”.

Numerous investigations into the former residential schools are underway across Canada after the discovery of mass unmarked graves, with more than 4,000 children believed to be missing, according to authorities.

Francis said he heard “stories of suffering, deprivation, discriminatory treatment and various forms of abuse” during meetings this week with survivors from the First Nations, Metis and Inuit groups.

“I join the Canadian bishops in asking you for forgiveness,” he said.

The 85-year old pontiff added; “I hope” to travel to Canada for the country’s St Anne’s Feast Day on July 26.

The president of the Metis National Council, Cassidy Caron, told journalists after the meeting that the pope’s words were appreciated.

“His apology is absolutely historic and so meaningful to so many people. This opens the doors for us to continue on our healing journey and continue to fight for action,” she said, adding that survivors “deserve justice.”

“I now look forward to his coming to Canada where he can deliver this heartfelt apology directly to our survivors and their families,” she said.

Gerald Antoine, regional chief of First Nations, said Friday was “the day we had been waiting for”.

“We accept this apology as a gesture of good faith,” he said.

Francis heard first-hand this week of centuries of abuse committed at the schools, and the delegations had pressed him for an apology for a scandal that rocked the Catholic Church.

Some 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were enrolled from the late 1800s to the 1990s in 139 residential schools across Canada, as part of a government policy of forced assimilation.

They spent months or years isolated from their families, language and culture, and many were physically and sexually abused by headmasters and teachers.

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