Pope Expresses Sorrow Over Residential Schools

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 15:40



The pope today expressed “his sorrow” at the anguish caused by the “deplorable” conduct of some members of the Roman Catholic Church in residential schools attended by Aboriginal Canadians.


Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine and a delegation of First Nations elders, residential school survivors and Aboriginal leaders met with Pope Benedict at the Vatican today.


It was the first ever private audience between a pope and a delegation of First Nations from Canada.


The AFN says the purpose of the audience was to discuss the legacy of the Indian residential schools era and the need for reconciliation.


Fontaine and four AFN delegates, as well as five representatives of the Catholic Church, met Pope Benedict in a private meeting that lasted approximately 20 minutes.


During the meeting, the pontiff offered his sympathy for the toll residential schools took on Aboriginal peoples, adding that acts of abuse cannot be tolerated in society.


The First Nations delegates presented the pope with a number of gifts that symbolized the diverse cultures and spirituality of First Nations peoples, including a Bible translated into the Dene language, an eagle feather, traditional beaded moccasins and gloves, a porcupine quill box designed with the AFN insignia, and a silver crucifix specially designed and commissioned for the occasion to symbolize reconciliation between First Nations and the Catholic Church.


Fontaine says the meeting was a “moving and extraordinary moment for all involved”, and was a “highpoint” of his lifelong work to bring resolution to the legacy of the Indian residential schools.


A residential school survivor who has spoken on behalf of surivors across Canada says he welcomes the pope’s statements.


Ted Quewezance is the former executive director of the Indian Residential School Survivors Society and still works with the organization.


Quewezance says the pope’s gesture is good, but he wants to hear from the Roman Catholic Church of Canada.


He says there are still congregations that deny what happened and feel no sorrow for what was done — only “sorrow for being caught.”


Meanwhile, the Metis National Council welcomes the pope’s regret for abuses suffered by First Nations students at residential schools, but is disappointed that Metis and Inuit survivors were not included.


MNC vice-president David Chartrand and Inuit leader Mary Simon met with Archbishop James Weisgerber, the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, to voice concerns over the exclusion of Métis and Inuit survivors from the pope’s statement.


Weisgerber has offered to press the Vatican for private audiences for Métis and Inuit survivors.


Chartrand would like to see the pope visit Canada to meet with the Metis and Inuit, but says if that can’t happen, they would be willing to travel to the Vatican.