Last May the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Nation announced the discovery of some 215 gravesites near Kamloops, British Columbia, found using ground-penetrating radar. It was Canada’s largest Indigenous residential school, and the discovery of the graves was the first of numerous, similar grim sites across the country.
Even before the sites were discovered, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission specifically called for a papal apology to be delivered on Canadian soil for the church’s role in the “spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children in Catholic-run residential schools.”
Francis has committed to traveling to Canada, though no date for a visit has been announced.
“Primarily the reconciliation requires action. And we still are in need of very specific actions from the Catholic Church,” said Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, who led the Inuit delegation. He cited the reparations the Canadian church has been ordered to pay, as well as justice for victims of a Catholic Oblate priest accused of multiple cases of sexual abuse who is currently living in France.
“It goes beyond just opening the doors to records, it also goes towards a general willingness to use church resources to help in any way possible,” Obed told the AP.
As part of a settlement of a lawsuit involving the government, churches and the approximately 90,000 surviving students, Canada paid reparations that amounted to billions of dollars being transferred to Indigenous communities.
The Catholic Church, for its part, has paid over $50 million and now intends to add $30 million more over the next five years.
The Argentine pope is no stranger to offering apologies for his own errors and what he himself has termed the “crimes” of the institutional church.
During a 2015 visit to Bolivia, he apologized for the sins, crimes and offenses committed by the church against Indigenous peoples during the colonial-era conquest of the Americas. In Dublin, Ireland, in 2018, he offered a sweeping apology to Irish women and others who were sexually and physically abused over generations by church officials.
That same year, he met privately with three Chilean sex abuse survivors whom he had discredited by backing a bishop they accused of covering up sexual abuse. In a series of meetings over the course of a week that echo those scheduled for the Canadian delegates, Francis listened, and apologized.
Phil Fontaine was national chief of the Assembly of First Nations in 2009 when he led an Indigenous delegation to meet with Pope Benedict XVI. At the time, Benedict only expressed his “sorrow at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the church.” But he didn’t apologize.
Standing outside St. Peter’s Square, Fontaine said a full papal apology “would be a tremendous boost to these efforts by thousands of survivors that are still looking for healing. They’re definitely anxious to see true reconciliation come about, but reconciliation will not be achieved without the truth.”
This article originally appeared here.