The Pope’s Apology, What Comes Next? 

Evan Peters ’25 & Aidan Kuo ’25


On Monday, July 25, 2022, Pope Francis delivered a historic apology for the Roman-Catholic Church’s involvement in the Residential Schools system. From the 1870s to the 1990s, 150 000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children between the ages of four to sixteen were taken from their families and forced to attend residential institutions run by the Canadian government and the Catholic Church. The primary goal of these institutions was to convert Indigenous children to Christian and European ideals by stripping them of their culture and identity; to quote Sir John A MacDonald, the objective was to “take the Indian out of the child.” These institutions have been declared an act of genocide and created deep inter-generational trauma that is still felt today. 

Pope Francis and, more important, the Catholic Church were yet to officially take responsibility for their involvement in this system until this year. This past spring in Rome, the Pope met with a contingent of Indigenous leaders, residential school survivors, and their families. This was followed up by an official apology on Canadian soil in July. The Pope’s apology was significant for survivors and their families. It took a lot of work, time, and courage to make this apology a reality. The Catholic Church has taken the first step towards reconciliation by acknowledging the truth, but what are the steps to follow it up? 

The Pope’s apology, while historic, left out meaningful information. The Catholic Church was, in part, responsible for afflicting psychological, physical, and sexual abuse on the children who attended Residential Schools. The Pope did not make a clear mention of the Catholic Church’s role in the abuse. The Pope also did not admit the guilt of the entire Church but rather blamed the “evil” of a few members who were directly involved in this system. 

Now to the question at hand: what comes next? Apologizing is the first step toward reconciliation, but it is the first of many. To continue the journey towards reconciliation, there are two important follow-up measures the Catholic Church should now be taking: 1) it should officially release all documents it holds related to residential institutions, and 2) it should pay the reparations it owed under the 2006 Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.  

The Catholic Church is in possession of hundreds of documents containing important information about the children who attended these institutions and the employees who worked in Residential Schools. Some branches of the Church, such as the Jesuits, have already released their documents. It is now time for the entire Church to do the same. This would help give Indigenous families and survivors closure about lost loved ones and to seek accountability from institutional staff that are still alive. 

The Catholic Church owes $25 million CAD in reparations under the 2006 Residential Schools’ Settlement Agreement. The Church was somehow legally absolved of this responsibility in 2015 during the final days of the previous Harper government. As such, this restitution has never been paid. Yet, it is a relatively small sum of money for the Catholic Church, a multi-billion-dollar entity. 

The Catholic faith teaches us to do what is morally right, even when it is difficult. While it may be challenging, the Church should pay these reparations in full.  

The Catholic Church has given survivors hope for reconciliation with the Pope’s historic apology. Now, the Church needs to take steps to back up this apology if it wants to achieve true reconciliation with Indigenous families and survivors of residential institutions. 

Photo credit: Cole Burston/Getty Images

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