Pope Francis has formally apologized for the Catholic church’s role in Canada’s residential school system.
This came after the pope met with Canadian First Nations, Inuit and Metis groups at the Vatican in Rome this week.
The pontiff said he was “deeply grieved” upon hearing the stories from Canadian delegates, adding that he felt “sorrow and shame” for the roles Catholics played, particularly Catholic educators, in harming and abusing Indigenous people.
“I ask for God’s forgiveness, and I want to say to you with all my heart: I am very sorry,” Pope Francis said on Friday morning.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed, who led the Inuit delegation, said that the apology was “long overdue,” and that “individual survivors and inter-generational survivors all will have very different feelings and perspectives about today.
“(It was) a heartfelt expression from the church that was delivered by Pope Francis in an empathetic and caring way,” said Obed. “There is much more to do, and so an apology is part of a much larger picture.”
Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated President Aluki Kotierk asked Inuit to “have more empathy today.”
“There will be many mixed, confusing emotions and I urge everyone to not only be gentle on oneselves, to be gentle with our fellow Inuit,” said Kotierk. “We cannot understand the horrific experiences our fellow Inuit experienced.”
Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok also released a statement regarding Pope Francis’s apology, saying he was “encouraged” by it.
“No words can erase the impact of the abuse endured by Inuit families, especially the children who were forcefully removed from parents and communities to be subjected to mistreatment and abuse,” Akeeagok said.
This apology is a “significant step on the long road” that is reconciliation, but he added that those who abused children must face justice.
“There is much more to do until we can achieve true healing, including ensuring surviving members of the Church who preyed on children have a day in court,” the premier said.