Federal government seeks Catholic coalition’s help securing papal apology – but it’s not likely to help

The federal government has turned to a coalition of Catholic groups to help obtain an apology from the Pope for the church’s role in residential schools.

But the Our Lady of Guadalupe Circle – a coalition of seven Catholic groups formed in late 2016 to foster relationships with Indigenous people – is unlikely to push for a papal apology anytime soon.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, NDP MP Charlie Angus and Senator Murray Sinclair co-signed a letter addressed to the coalition, calling on the group to help “advance the cause of reconciliation.”

“As an essential component of healing and reconciliation, the survivors of Canada’s Indian residential schools and their families deserve an apology from the Pope on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church,” reads the May 14 letter. “The families torn apart by this destructive and often cruel system suffered greatly, at the hands of church representatives acting in the name of the church.”

Keewatin-Le Pas Archbishop Murray Chatlain, who co-chairs the Circle, said the decision to apologize lies with the Pope himself.

“I don’t think we should tell the Pope what to say. I think we should invite him and allow him to respond,” said Chatlain, noting the Pope has been “very generous in acknowledging failure in sin” elsewhere.

Earlier this month, Pope Francis apologized to Chilean victims of sexual abuse in the clergy. In 2015, he apologized for the “grave sins” the church committed on Indigenous people in Bolivia. And in 2010, he said sorry to Irish victims of priestly sexual abuse.

During a visit to the Vatican last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Pope Francis to do the same for Canada’s Indigenous people. But earlier this year, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) said the Pope cannot “personally respond” to the request because he’s “waiting for an opportune time.”

Following backlash, the CCCB gave a news conference to clarify those comments, but it only lead to more confusion.

“He’s not saying that he won’t do it at all. He’s just saying that it can’t happen right now and it could well happen later on,” said Chatlain.

In 2009, the former Pope Benedict expressed “sorrow” for the abuse Indigenous children suffered at residential schools during a meeting with members of the Assembly of First Nations.

“Sorrow is not enough. Sorrow is never enough,” said Bennett last March.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action include an apology from the Pope to survivors, their families and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the “spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse” of First Nations, Inuit and Metis children in the residential school system.

Bennett, Angus and Sinclair have invited the Our Lady of Guadalupe Circle to meet with residential school survivors to discuss “the role the Circle can play toward obtaining an apology and to advance the cause of reconciliation.”

“We make this offer in a spirit of openness and a belief that we all need to work together to finally close this dark chapter in Canada’s history,” the letter reads.

Chatlain said the Circle, which includes residential school survivors who are working on implementing the Truth and Reconciliation’s 94 recommendations, is intending to meet with Bennett.

APTN’s request for comment by the Pope’s Canadian representative, the papal nuncio, has not been returned.

For his part, Chatlain has apologized several times – first before the Roman Catholic Diocese of Mackenzie–Fort Smith in the north where he once served as bishop.

But it took two years of meeting with Indigenous people first.

“I had to listen and understand the stories of those people in that region so it’s not just words.”

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