Catholic Archbishop in Alberta, NWT Apologizes for Residential School Abuse: Irony Abounds

by John McKiggan

CTV News has reported that Archbishop Richard Smith of the Archdiocese of Edmonton has issued a formal apology for the Catholic Church’s role in running the Indian Residential Schools.

Smith said:

“…we the Catholic Bishops of Alberta and Northwest Territories apologize to those who experienced sexual and physical abuse in residential schools under Catholic administration.”

Canada apologized

As part of the National Indian Residential School class action settlement, in 2008 Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on behalf of Canada, issued an apology to all former residents of residential schools. Various church leaders throughout Canada have followed suit apologizing for their role in the appalling legacy of Indian Residential Schools.

No apology from the Pope

It is worth noting that in 2009 the Pope met with Canadian Indian Residential School survivors, including some of my clients from the Shubenacadie Indian Residential school. Read my article: Pope Apologizes (Sort of) for Abuse at Indian Residential Schools for the full story.

Pope Benedict chose to simply express sorrow for the suffering of children forced into Indian Residential Schools, with no acknowledgement of the role the Catholic church played in causing the pain that Indian Residential School survivors carry.

This most recent apology is coming a few weeks before the final event by the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission which is set to take place from March 27 – March 30, 2014.

Real apology or window dressing?

All residential school survivors will have to judge for themselves what value they place on the Archbishop’s apology. However for me, the apology is rather ironic given that just three weeks ago National Media reported that the Federal Government has been forced to sue the Catholic organizations that ran the Indian Residential Schools to get them to pay their share of the national class action settlement.

As part of the Indian Residential School class action settlement all of the religious entities that ran the residential schools agreed to pay 25 million dollars towards the cost of the 2 billion dollar settlement. Some critics suggested that since the catholic Church ran most of the Residential Schools, the Catholic church should contribute more than the other religious entities involved in the class action.

The Anglican, Presbyterian and United Churches have all met their financial obligations.

However, Canada is now pursing legal action against the Catholic Church seeking to recover 1.6 million dollars which was supposed to go toward the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

Further, Mike DeGagne the former executive director of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation says that the Catholic Church has contributed almost none of the 25 million dollars they were supposed to contribute to the overall Indian Residential School settlement.


Apologies are a valuable part of the healing process. However, apologies must be backed up by actions. In the case of the Catholic Church it appears that the church is happy to offer words but fails miserably when it comes to baking up those words with cash for the victims of residential school abuse.

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