Papal apology to residential school survivors not on agenda for next month’s trip to Vatican delegate says

Papal apology

The papal shield at the Vatican Embassy in Ottawa.


Survivors who have long been waiting for a Papal apology for the Catholic church’s role in the residential school system are going to have to wait longer.

An Indigenous delegation is making the trip to Rome next month and will meet with Pope Francis on Dec. 20.

However, according to former Assembly of First Nations national chief Phil Fontaine who is part of the delegation as a representative for Manitoba, an apology is not on the agenda.

“It would be a terrible waste of time if the Pope was to commit, as he has, to come to Canada and not issue an apology when he’s here,” he says, “I think it makes sense to have him, to have the apology, when he’s here, during his trip to Canada.”

Fontaine mused that a papal visit to Canada may happen as soon as the fall of 2022, on the second anniversary of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30.

However, is such a visit to Canada by Pope Francis as sure a thing as Fontaine and others seem to be saying?

On Oct. 27, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a press release that said, “The Catholic Bishops of Canada are grateful that Pope Francis has accepted their invitation to visit Canada on a pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation.”

The press release then refers to the Pope’s actual words on the same day as defined in a statement from the Holy See Press Office which indicates such a trip to Canada and under these parameters of reconciliation is far from confirmed.

“The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has invited the Holy Father to make an apostolic journey to Canada, also in the context of the long-standing pastoral process of reconciliation with indigenous peoples. His Holiness has indicated his willingness to visit the country on a date to be settled in due course.”

In a virtual press conference on Thursday, the Assembly of First Nations also confirmed the CCCB is paying for the costs of the trip to send 13 First Nations delegates and an advisor to Rome from Dec. 17-20.

However, a price tag for the papal trip has yet to be disclosed.

“Unfortunately, I do not have a firm cost, a total, for that but we do have 13 delegates, as well as our spiritual advisor,” Sherry Antone, who serves as chief of staff to AFN National Chief Roseanne Archibald and is also a technical advisor to the First Nations delegation, says. “So, these are the individuals that they are covering.”

The AFN has also released the names of the 13 people from across the country who will make up the First Nations delegation.

This list includes AFN N.W.T. Regional Chief Norman Yakeleya who is delegation lead and former Truth and Reconciliation commissioner Wilton Littlechild who will represent Alberta.

Kukpi7 Chief Roseanne Casimir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation will represent British Columbia and Okanese First Nation Chief Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier Saskatchewan.

Taylor Behn-Tsakoza of Fort Nelson First Nation in B.C. is the youth representative.

The CCCB says as many as 30 Indigenous representatives will make the trip to the Vatican including elders, knowledge keepers and residential school survivors.

It has been confirmed Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed will also be part of the delegation.

Fraser spent the last 20 years working in both print and radio in Saskatchewan – mostly in the northern part of the province. Before joining APTN’s Ottawa bureau, he was news director for the Missinipi Broadcasting Corporation working out of their Prince Albert office. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Carleton University and a diploma of journalism from Algonquin College.