Willie Nahanee, 79, of the Squamish Nation, who attended the former St. Paul Indian Residential School for 10 years and the Kamloops Indian Residential School for one year, holds a photograph of the 1932 St. Paul girls class, in North Vancouver, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. Catholic bishops in Canada are apologizing to survivors of residential schools and their families ahead of a planned meeting between Pope Francis and Indigenous leaders later this fall. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Canadian Catholic bishops ‘apologize unequivocally’ for residential schools

OTTAWA — Catholic bishops in Canada are apologizing “unequivocally” to Indigenous Peoples for the suffering endured in residential schools, just as Pope Francis prepares to meet with Indigenous leaders at the Vatican later this fall.

They are also promising to provide documents that may help “memorialize” students buried in unmarked graves, work on getting the Pope to visit Canada, and raise money to help fund initiatives recommended by local Indigenous partners.

The church has been heavily criticized for refusing to provide all documents requested by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and for raising less than one-sixth of a $25-million fund promised for reconciliation and healing as part of the 2007 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

The bishops’ apology is the latest expression of remorse from the Canadian arms of the Catholic Church but still falls short of the TRC call to action for the Pope himself to apologize in Canada.

National Indigenous leaders, elders, youth and survivors of residential schools are to travel to Rome in mid-December for four days of meetings, which some hope will be the final precursor to that apology.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appealed directly to the Pope for the apology during a visit to the Vatican in 2017, but months later Pope Francis sent word through Canadian bishops that he could not personally respond to the call.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2021.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press