June 11 is the anniversary of the 2008 apology issued to First Nations, Métis and Inuit by Prime Minister Stephen Harper for Canada’s boarding school era.
So it would seem fitting that in a private meeting with Pope Francis on this day he brought up the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) report and a letter written by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt that drew attention to the findings.
Among the 94 recommendations by the TRC, which spent six years studying the residential schools—era during which Canada took 150,000 indigenous children from their families and forced them to attend boarding schools that erased their cultural ties—was that the pope apologize.
“We call upon the Pope to issue an apology 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 Me?tis children in Catholic-run residential schools,” reads recommendation number 58, one of several targeting church denominations and groups. “We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.”
The Prime Minister appears to have stopped short of requesting such an apology from His Holiness. But Harper’s office released a statement afterward saying that in addition to discussing “the importance of advocating on behalf of Christians and other religious minorities currently under threat in the Middle East, Eastern Ukraine, Crimea and Africa,” Canada’s leader “also drew attention to the letter sent by Bernard Valcourt, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, to the Holy See regarding the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”
In addition, the statement said, “The Prime Minister also invited Pope Francis to consider visiting Canada in 2017 to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Confederation.”
Whether the Pope will accept the invitation, and deliver an apology then, remains to be seen.
The Vatican did not mention that part of the exchange in its media release.
“During the course of the cordial discussions, the good relations existing between the Holy See and Canada were noted, as was the positive spirit of cooperation and dialogue between the Canadian federal government and the Church,” the Vatican said in a statement. “In particular, Canada’s commitment to defend and promote religious freedom in the context of fundamental human rights were treated.
“Later in the conversation, international political issues were discussed, with reference to Europe and the Middle East and the prospects for peace in that region, as well as the fight against terrorism and environmental issues.”
The TRC report came out on June 2.