Pope Francis won’t be coming to Canada to personally apologize for the suffering endured by Indigenous Canadians at residential schools.
A personal apology from the Pope, delivered on Canadian soil, was one of 94 “Calls to Action” that came out of a five-year Truth and Reconciliation Commission review of the legacy of residential schools in 2015.
In a March 27 letter to the Indigenous peoples of Canada, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops president Bishop Lionel Gendron delivers the news that Pope Francis is not able to travel to Canada for the sole purpose of delivering the apology.
“As far as Call to Action #58 is concerned, after carefully considering the request and extensive dialogue with the bishops of Canada, he (Pope Francis) felt that he could not personally respond,” Gendron, the bishop of Saint-Jean-Longueil in Quebec, writes.
Gendron stresses that reconciliation with Canada’s original inhabitants remains “a major pastoral priority,” for Canada’s bishops and the Church from coast to coast.
“We look forward to a future where systemic injustices are meaningfully addressed, where we all discover new ways of living together through which the First Peoples of this land are honoured and respected,” he wrote.
To the surprise of some, the question of a papal visit to Canada was not on the official agenda when Canadian bishops held their annual plenary in Cornwall, Ont., Sept. 25-29.
Outgoing CCCB president Douglas Crosby of Hamilton said the matter had to be considered carefully “because it can be really expensive.”
“That’s why there is a lot of discussion with government and with other agencies,” said Crosby.
At the annual meeting of Canadian prelates, bishops seemed divided on how to respond to Call to Action #58. The 2015 call for a papal apology was subsequently repeated by others.
In a May 29, 2017 meeting at the Vatican, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Pope Francis to come to Canada to issue the apology as requested by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The bishops of Saskatchewan issued a similar invitation last December, asking the Pope to make an apology on Canadian soil.
A papal visit, however, requires the support of Canada’s bishops.
“The Pope would never come to a country unless the conference (CCCB) was in favour or supported it, or wanted him to come,” Crosby said last September, adding he doubted the Pope would come “just for an apology.”
Gendron stresses that a future apology on Canadian soil remains a possibility, but the Pope is not at this time able to make the trip.
“A future Papal visit to Canada may be considered,” Gendron wrote. “Taking into account all circumstances, and including an encounter with the Indigenous Peoples as a top priority.”
When Gendron became president of the CCCB in October he said the bishops were in a process of discernment regarding a papal visit.
“If the Pope wants to come, we will welcome him,” Gendron said. “Our way of interpreting him, Pope Francis would accept (and) if at some point we see that it is important, we might as well say, ‘Holy Father, if you wish to come…”
In his March 27 letter, Gendron emphasizes local and personal efforts to forge a new relationship between the Church and Indigenous Canadians.
“We have heard your invitation to engage honestly and courageously with the past, to acknowledge the failings of members of the Catholic Church, and to take active steps of solidarity with Indigenous Peoples towards a better future,” he wrote. “…We wish to dedicate ourselves with you to reconciliation at the local level through concrete pastoral initiatives.”
Gendron also reminded readers of the Pope’s statements regarding the importance of Indigenous populations worldwide.
“He has pointed to Indigenous Peoples as critical dialogue partners to whom the Church needs to listen,” Gendron wrote.