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Pope silent, Catholic bishops 'shocked' after children's remains found in Kamloops

Last Updated Jun 4, 2021 at 6:36 pm PDT

FILE -- Pope Francis leaves after a visit to Radio Vaticana offices in Rome Monday, May 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Summary

The Kamloops Indian Residential School opened under Roman Catholic administration in 1890 and operated until 1969

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission called on the pope to apologize, Pope Francis declined in 2018

Catholic leaders in B.C., Canada have issued statements expressing shock, sorrow, prayers, hope for healing

Editor’s Note: Emotional support or assistance for those who are affected by the residential school system can be found at Indian Residential School Survivors Society toll-free 1 (800) 721-0066 or 24 hr Crisis Line 1 (866) 925-4419.

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Amid renewed calls for the Pope to apologize for the devastation caused by the residential school system, Catholic bishops in Canada have issued statements expressing sorrow and shock, offering prayers to the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation after the remains of 215 children were found in Kamloops.

The Kamloops Indian Residential School opened under Roman Catholic administration in 1890 and operated until 1969. One of the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was for the pope to apologize for the role of the Church in a system that saw 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children taken from their families and confined in conditions that constituted cultural genocide.

“We call upon the Pope to issue an apology 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,” the call to action reads.

‘Many more children unaccounted for’

The final report of the commission estimates that between 4,100 to 6,000 children died of abuse or neglect between 1890 and 1996. However, the discovery of 215 children’s remains in unmarked graves is drawing more attention to the fact that Indigenous people, survivors, and experts have maintained that this number is a significant underestimation.

“We have heard from many survivors, from our own community and beyond. They are finally being heard after so many years of silence and disbelief about the deaths of children in the residential schools,” Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation wrote in a statement Monday.

“Regrettably, we know that many more children are unaccounted for. We have heard that unmarked burial sites exist at other former residential school grounds. It was something that
the TRC raised in the early days of their work. However, it was not part of their original mandate.”

In 2018, Pope Francis said he would not be making an apology despite a formal request from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and pleas from survivors and their families. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said that while the Pope acknowledged the commission’s findings and expressed regret for past wrongs, he “felt he could not personally respond.”

The Pontiff has not made any statement on last week’s discovery.

Manny Jules, former Chief of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, tells Radio NL News an apology now is more important than ever.

“It’s critically important that from my view, that the church say something,” he said.

“It has to say something about this finding because they were involved. But isn’t just the Catholic Church, its also the other churches that were part and parcel of the colonial approach here in this country that have to have a role and responsibility, and that’s going to be a very powerful signal.”

Catholic bishops offer prayers, support for ‘healing’ to First Nation

The Bishop of the Diocese of Kamloops, Joseph Nguyen, issued a statement Friday, saying he was “heartbroken” and “horrified” by the news.

“On behalf of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kamloops, I express my deepest sympathy to Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation and to all who are mourning this tragedy and an unspeakable loss. No words of sorrow could adequately describe this horrific discovery,” he wrote in a statement.

“I offer assurance of my personal support, prayers, and accompaniment to our First Nations in Kamloops and beyond.”

Prior to 1945, the Kamloops Indian Residential School was within the boundaries of the Archdiocese of Vancouver. Archbishop J. Michael Miller said he was “filled with deep sadness” when he heard the children’s remains were found.

“The pain that such news causes reminds us of our ongoing need to bring to light every tragic situation that occurred in residential schools run by the Church. The passage of time does not erase the suffering that touches the Indigenous communities affected, and we pledge to do whatever we can to heal that suffering,” he said in a statement.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops echoed these sentiments in a statement Monday.

“The news of the recent discovery is shocking. It rekindles trauma in numerous communities across this land. Honouring the dignity of the lost little ones demands that the truth be brought to light,” it reads.

“As we see ever more clearly the pain and suffering of the past, the Bishops of Canada pledge to continue walking side by side with Indigenous Peoples in the present, seeking greater
healing and reconciliation for the future.”

The Sisters of St. Ann, an order of Catholic nuns who staffed at the Kamloops residential school, have said they will make records available to the archivist working with the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation.

“We share the anguish and we join in the plea for more answers,” writes a spokesperson in a statement.

Emotional support or assistance for those who are affected by the residential school system can be found at Indian Residential School Survivors Society toll-free 1 (800) 721-0066 or 24 hr Crisis Line 1 (866) 925-4419.

With files from Ria Renouf, Kier Junos, and The Canadian Press