Vatican insider expects residential school apology in Canada

Author and long-time Vatican correspondent Gerard O’Connell expects Pope Francis will want to be in Canada to apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system.

“He said he wanted to go on a visit of healing and reconciliation,”the Vatican insider told CTV National News’ Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme in Rome. “And part of that healing and reconciliation is to say publicly, ‘I’m sorry for what has been done by people in the church, I’m sorry for the wrongs you’ve been done. I feel them.’”

Pope Francis is meeting with Indigenous delegates at the Vatican this week to discuss reconciliation between the Catholic Church and First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities.

“He sees himself like a parish priest, and he will want to go to meet these people in their own territory,” O’Connell explained. “They’ve come to him in Rome, he will want to return the visit. I’m sure, knowing the man, I’m sure he will go. And he will seek to rebuild the broken bridges.”

Beginning in the late 19th century, approximately 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were separated from their families and forced to attend residential schools, with the aim of replacing Indigenous languages and culture with English and Christian beliefs. Many cases of abuse and at least 4,100 deaths have been documented at the former schools, while hundreds of unmarked graves have been discovered. Canada’s last residential school closed in 1996. Most were run by the Catholic Church.

O’Connell has been writing about the Vatican since 1985 and is the author of the 2019 book The Election of Pope Francis. He believes Canada could have a papal visit and apology as soon as this year.

“It’s a big moment for the Pope because he is taking on his shoulders the burden of the past,” O’Connell said. “He doesn’t want people to kind of get locked in the past, he wants people to look way ahead: What now can we do together to build a much better future for the descendants of those people, and some of them who have suffered who are here.”

For more inside perspective on Pope Francis’ efforts to reconcile with Indigenous peoples, watch the full interview with O’Connell above.

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