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Catholic Church as a whole was 'not associated' with residential schools: bishops

Last Updated Jun 4, 2021 at 2:19 pm PDT

The former Kamloops Indian Residential School is seen on Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops, B.C., on May 27, 2021. The remains of 215 children have been found buried on the site, the First Nation said. (Andrew Snucins/The Canadian Press)
Summary

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops says 16 of 70 Catholic dioceses in Canada were linked to residential schools

CCCB says each diocese, religious community 'corporately and legally responsible for its own actions'

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

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available for anyone affected by residential schools. You can call 1-866-925-4419 24 hours a day to access emotional support and services.

OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) – The national assembly of bishops in Canada is distancing the Catholic Church as a whole from the residential school system in Canada.

“The Catholic Church as a whole in Canada was not associated with the Residential Schools, nor was the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB),” the group said Friday.

The statement came on the heels of the prime minister demanding the Vatican apologize and the Catholic Church release its documents on residential schools, in the wake of the discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former school site in Kamloops.

When asked for a response to Justin Trudeau’s demands for the Church to take responsibility, the CCCB said:

“The Catholic community in Canada has a decentralized structure. Each Diocesan Bishop is autonomous in his diocese and, although relating to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, is not accountable to it.

“Approximately 16 out of 70 Catholic dioceses in Canada were associated with the former Indian Residential Schools, in addition to about three dozen Catholic religious communities. Each diocese and religious community is corporately and legally responsible for its own actions. The Catholic Church as a whole in Canada was not associated with the Residential Schools, nor was the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“In a brief submitted to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in November 1993, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said that ‘various types of abuse experienced at some residential schools have moved us to a profound examination of conscience as a Church.’

“Already in 1991, Canadian Catholic Bishops and leaders of men and women religious communities had issued a statement that ‘We are sorry and deeply regret the pain, suffering and alienation that so many experienced’ at the Residential Schools.”

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The prime minister says as a Catholic, he is deeply disappointed by the position that the church has taken now and over the past couple years. He notes that he personally asked the Pope in 2017 to consider an apology for the institution’s part in the government-sponsored, church-run schools for Indigenous children that operated for more than 120 years.

Trudeau says it’s going to be important for Catholics across the country to reach out to bishops and cardinals on this issue. He says he expects the church to be part of the important process of truth and healing and to make school records available.

He says the government has tools available to compel the church to provide these documents, but he indicated he does not want to resort to taking the institution to court.

The Kamloops Indian Residential School opened under Roman Catholic administration in 1890 and operated until 1969. The last residential school in Canada closed in 1996.

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 Métis 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.

On Wednesday, Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller issued an apology on social media.

“The Church was unquestionably wrong in implementing a government colonialist policy which resulted in devastation for children, families and communities,” he wrote.

For his part, Miller pledged the Archdiocese of Vancouver “will be fully transparent” in sharing archives and records of all residential schools, “and strongly urge other Catholic and government organizations to do the same.”

The Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced last week that ground-penetrating radar had located what are believed to be the unmarked graves of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops.

The news has sparked national outrage and grief, and has led to mounting calls for the federal government and church to investigate more potential school burial sites.

With files from Cormac Mac Sweeney, Hana Mae Nassar, and The Canadian Press