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Pope's address of residential schools falls short, no mention of survivors: Advocate

Citynews 1130 Vancouver
Pope Francis speaks from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at The Vatican to a crowd of faithful and pilgrims gathered for the Sunday Angelus noon prayer, Sunday, June 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)

Advocate says the Pope’s address does not meet the needs of the survivors

Pope’s statement comes more than a week after the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children

Statement makes no acknowledgement of Canadian residential schools, advocate says

KAMLOOPS (NEWS 1130) — Local religious leader says Pope’s comments over the discovery of 215 Indigenous children remains at church-run residential school fell short.

Pope Francis on Sunday expressed grief but didn’t offer an apology this weekend.

During his regular Sunday public prayer delivered to a gathering in St. Peter’s Square, Francis said he was “following with sorrow” the news of an unmarked burial site brought. He added the “shocking” discovery is a call for Canadian religious and political authorities to keep working toward reconciliation.

Rev. Dr. Carmen Lansdowne is the executive director at First United Church Ministry Society on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation. She says his address does not meet the needs of the survivors, who are the ones asking for the apology.

Lansdowne says she understands he met with a pair of Canadian Cardinals on Saturday as pressure mounts for the Catholic Church to take action and accept responsibility for the residential school system that targeted Indigenous children for decades. However, his attempt to address the issue has also came too late and didn’t even mention survivors.

“I join with the Catholic church in Canada in expressing closeness to the Canadian people traumatized by the shocking news,” Francis said. “This sad discovery increases the awareness of the sorrows and sufferings of the past.”

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“He’s expressing closeness to the Canadian people,” Lansdowne says. “It’s very clear that Canadian residential schools victimized and traumatized generations of Indigenous children and families, and that’s never acknowledged in anything that he’s released today.”

“Regardless of whether or not it’s an admission of liability, I do think that restitution is owed from the Roman Catholic Church to the survivors,” she adds.

In 2009, then Pope Benedict XVI met with former students and survivors and told them of his “personal anguish” over their suffering. But his words weren’t described as an apology.

Lansdowne says the United Church has taken accountability and is committed to the full implementation of all of the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“I’m personally as an Indigenous ordained minister, wanting us to see to see each other go further,” she says.

“This is still living history for us. The last residential school closed when I was in third-year university, and I’m only 45. This is the living history and the living legacy of residential schools and an assimilation of policy that was meant to eradicate Indigenous people from Canadian society. And every Canadian has to come to terms with that.”

In 2009, then Pope Benedict XVI met with former students and survivors and told them of his “personal anguish” over their suffering. But his words weren’t described as an apology.

The Kamloops Indian Residential School was Canada’s largest such facility and was operated by the Catholic Church between 1890 and 1969.

Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation in British Columbia has said her nation wants a public apology from the Catholic Church. The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which ran nearly half of Canada’s residential schools, has yet to release any records about the Kamloops school, she also said.

The United, Presbyterian and Anglican churches have apologized for their roles in the abuse, as has the Canadian government, which has offered compensation.

Among the many recommendations of a government-established Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a papal apology.

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.

– With files from the Canadian Press and Frances D’Emilio with The Associated Press