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Pope Francis formally apologized over the weekend for the abuse Canadian Indigenous children experienced at Catholic Church-run residential schools for over a century, following years of campaigning by Canada’s native leaders to receive an apology, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The pontiff expressed “indignation and shame (at the) deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church” involved in the schools.
He added that he also intends to fly to Canada in July to issue a formal apology, marking the first time he has made an international trip expressly for such a purpose.
His statements came after a week of meetings in the Vatican between the pope and Canadian Indigenous leaders, who had been demanding a formal apology for years for the abuses committed by the Catholic clergy and staff at Canada’s controversial residential school system.
Calls for an apology became more strident last year following the discovery of more than 1,000 unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools across Canada.
In 2015, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission had determined that for more than a century the state-funded system forced about 150,000 Indigenous children to attend residential schools.
The commission’s report said that system amounted to “cultural genocide,” as it forced the children to suppress their languages and culture. Physical and sexual abuse was also commonplace at the institutions – some of which were run by the Catholic Church.
Canadian Indigenous leaders and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed the pope’s apology and upcoming trip but noted that there is more to be done.
They also issued a series of demands to the pontiff, which include reparations, access to church records to document the fate of the schools’ students, and the return of artifacts of Indigenous Canadian cultures that are now in the Vatican Museums.
Pope Francis did not address these demands in his apology.