The Catholic Church should apologise for its role in forcing Canada’s indigenous children to attend brutal boarding schools after the discovery of 215 bodies last month, Justin Trudeau has said.
The Prime Minister – who is himself a Catholic – has called on the church to ‘step up’ and take responsibility after years of silence.
More than 150,000 children were forced to attend the state-funded Christian schools to assimilate them into Canadian society.
Many suffered physical and sexual abuse and were beaten for speaking their native languages.
What happened has been called ‘cultural genocide’ by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission which reported in 2015.
The discovery of the remains have reopened old wounds and Trudeau has renewed calls for the release of key documents to shed light on what happened.
‘As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed by the position that the Catholic Church has taken now and over the past many years,’ Trudeau said.
‘When I went to the Vatican a number of years ago I directly asked His Holiness, Pope Francis, to move forward on apologizing, on asking for forgiveness, on restitution, on making these records available, and we’re still seeing resistance from the church, possibly from the church in Canada.’
The schools operated between 1831 and 1996 and were run by the government and church groups.
The children’s remains were found at the site of the largest school – the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia – which closed in 1978.
On Friday, Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc Chief Rosanne Casimir, on whose land the Kamloops school still stands, told reporters the nation has not received any records that would help identify the children.
In 2008, the Canadian government formally apologised for the system. Trudeau said many are ‘wondering why the Catholic Church in Canada is silent, is not stepping up.’
He added: ‘Before we have to start taking the Catholic Church to court, I am very hopeful that religious leaders will understand this is something they need to participate in and not hide from.’
On Wednesday, Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller said on Twitter ‘the Church was unquestionably wrong’ and his archdiocese would be transparent with its archives and records regarding residential schools.
Pope Francis met with both Vatican-based Canadian cardinals on Saturday and it is thought he is likely to have discuss the recent developments with them.
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