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Canadian Indigenous leaders and survivors of the country’s controversial residential schools met with Pope Francis on Monday, the first of a series of meetings this week in the hopes of securing a papal apology for the abuses committed by the Catholic clergy and school staff, the Associated Press reported.
Initially postponed from December, the meetings are part of an effort by the Canadian Catholic Church and government to respond to Indigenous demands for justice, reconciliation and reparations.
During this week, Pope Francis will meet privately with representatives from the Metis and Inuit communities, as well as a delegation of the First Nations on Thursday. On Friday, the pontiff will deliver an address, which Indigenous leaders hope will include an official apology for the church’s role in the residential school system.
Last year, the discovery of more than 200 unmarked graves at an Indigenous residential school near Kamloops, British Columbia, unsettled Canadians and prompted the country’s reckoning with its past. Since then, similar gravesites have been found elsewhere in the country.
The state-funded system forced more than 150,000 Indigenous children to attend Christian schools from the 19th century to the 1970s. At the time, the government attempted to assimilate these children into mainstream society by Christianizing them, and isolating them from their families and culture.
The Canadian government admitted that physical and sexual abuse was commonplace in those schools – nearly three-quarters of the schools were run by Catholic missionary congregations.
Earlier this year, the government agreed to pay billions of dollars to compensate the surviving students traumatized by the institutions. The Catholic church paid more than $50 million and now plans to add $30 million more over the next five years.
Canadian Indigenous leaders had initially tried to get an apology from the pontiff’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, in 2009.
While it isn’t yet known if the pope intends to apologize, he is no stranger to offering apologies for what he has termed the “crimes” of the institutional church.
In 2015, he apologized for the crimes and offenses committed by the church against Indigenous people in Bolivia. Three years later, he apologized to Irish women and others who were sexually abused over generations by the clergy.