Pope appears open to residential schools apology, says Trudeau

Posted May 30, 2017

The prime minister and his wife met Pope Francis for about 30 minutes at the Vatican Monday.

Canadians want to press ahead with reconciliation in the wake of the residential school era, Justin Trudeau said Monday as he described his efforts to encourage Pope Francis to apologize for the Catholic Church's role in the tragedy.

For its part, the Vatican issued a statement saying that the Prime Minister's meetings with the Pope and with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, included "the themes of integration and reconciliation, as well as religious freedom and current ethical issues".

Among their promises were an inquiry into why so many aboriginal women are murdered or go missing, and to enact the 94 calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on residential schools. The TRC report said the church-run schools attempted to assimilate Indigenous children by removing their culture, identity and language.

Trudeau, who has promised to act on each recommendation, had previously promised to speak to the Pope about an apology, but pointed out he could not compel the pontiff to agree.

Trudeau said that in their private talks, the pope "reminded me that his entire life has been dedicated to supporting marginalized people in the world, fighting for them, and that he looks forward to working with me and with the Canadian bishops to figure out a path forward together".

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Mr. Trudeau said the pontiff signalled during a 42-minute private audience that a formal apology would be forthcoming to Indigenous survivors for the sexual, mental and physical abuse they suffered at church-run schools. Trudeau is seeking the apology as a way for the Catholic church to acknowledge the role it played in Canada's residential schools.

Prime Minster Trudeau had also let it be known to journalists that he would extend an invitation to Francis to visit Canada. Both meetings yielded images of the pope standing blank-faced beside each leader, though he is shown smiling broadly at other points during the respective visits. The pair discussed the importance of protecting the planet, he added.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which has been tasked with collecting the stories of survivors and recommending a way forward for the country to heal, has called the residential school system "cultural genocide".

At the end of the meeting, the Pope gave Trudeau a medallion symbolizing forgiveness, joy and mutual acceptance.

The PM gifted The Pope a rare set of Jesuit Relations books detailing Canada's beginnings.

In return, the Pope gave the prime minister a gold medal marking the fourth year of his pontificate, an autographed copy of his message for World Peace Day and three papal letters about family, environment and evangelism. "So this follow with Prime Minister Trudeau today is really great news", Mr. Littlechild said.