Pope Apologizes (Sort of) for Abuse at Indian Residential Schools

by John McKiggan

Residential School Survivors Meet Pope

A group of Survivors from Canada’s Indian Residential Schools had a private audience with Pope Benedict. The delegation was led by assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine. The group also includes one of the survivors of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School, Membertou Chief Terry Paul.

Pope Apologizes to Abuse Survivors

The Survivors received a personal apology from the Pope on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church for its “deplorable” role in Canada’s Indian Residential School system.

Late update: It appears that media reports of the Pope’s apology (like Mark Twain’s death) have been greatly exaggerated. Reports now indicate that the Pope did not apologize or acknowlege the Catholic Churches role in the abuse suffered by children in the residential schools. rather he expressed “sorrow” for the suffering of the children.

Students Suffered Physical and Sexual Abuse

There were about 130 Indian Residential Schools across Canada and 75% of the schools were run by the Catholic Church. Students at the schools were taken from their families and placed in the schools where many of them suffered horrible physical abuse, sexual abuse and loss of their language and culture.

Previous Apologies

Until today, the Catholic Church had never apologized for the horrible abuse at Church run schools. Other religious organizations that ran schools have long since issued apologies, including the Anglican Church in 1993, the Presbyterian Church in 1994 and the United Church of Canada in 1998. Prime Minister Stephen Harper also offered an apology on behalf of the Government of Canada in June of last year.

Nora Bernard Filed First Class Action

The greatest honour I have ever had as a lawyer was representing Nora Bernard and the other Survivors of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School in their fight for compensation for what happened to them as a result of the Residential School system.

Nora filed the first class action against the Government of Canada and the Catholic Church seeking compensation for loss of language and culture for Residential School Survivors. Nora’s claim played an important role in the five billion dollar Indian Residential School Class Action Settlement, the largest historical redress settlement in the world.

I am sure Nora was watching today. I think I can sum up what her reaction would be in three words: “It’s about time!”


I have been reading further media reports of this mornings meeting. Apparently earlier reports that the Pope apologized are incorrect. Instead the Pope expressed “sorrow” for the “deplorable” treatment of aboriginal children in catholic run residential schools.

But the Pope did not go so far as to apologize or admit that the Catholic Church had any responsibility for the physical and sexual abuse suffered by children in the schools.

The Canadian government and every single religious organization that ran the residential schools (except the catholic Church) have acknowledged their personal responsibility and apologized for the horrible abuse that took place in the Residential schools.

How can the Catholic Church ever hope to receive forgiveness from residential school survivors if it won’t take responsibility for it’s actions?

What do you think?

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One Response to “Pope Apologizes (Sort of) for Abuse at Indian Residential Schools”

December 31, 1969 at 6:00 pm, Shawn Warren said:

I’m not surprised. The Catholic Church will never apologize for these horrific faults – this would mean that they would have to admit that there was any wrong-doing.

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