Raye St. Denys appreciates Pope Francis’s apology for the abuses Indigenous students suffered at Catholic Church-run residential schools— but feels this should have come sooner.
“I think it’s long overdue, but it’s welcome,” said St. Denys, a Red Deer Métis woman, whose predecessors were stripped of their culture in these schools.
Other community members were not quite won over by the Pope’s apology.
Theresa “Corky” Larsen-Jonasson, a local Cree/Danish Métis elder, said “I am not accepting apologies anymore — only changed behaviour and a public and earnest effort to make things right.”
After spending a week in discussions with Canadian Indigenous people, Pope Francis made a historic apology for the misconduct of some members of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada’s residential school system.
“Listening to the voices of the brothers and sisters of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, I heard the suffering, hardship, discrimination and various forms of abuse experienced,” the Pope stated on Friday afternoon.
Earlier Friday, Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegations gathered for a final audience with the Pope at the Vatican. Francis spoke of feeling “sorrow and shame” for the behavior of those who ran the schools.
“I also feel shame … for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you, and the abuses you suffered and the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values,” the pontiff said.
“For the deplorable conduct of these members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God’s forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart, I am very sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon.”
St. Denys and Larsen-Jonasson both feel strongly that action must follow his words.
“I am hopeful that … when reports of abuse are made, these priests or nuns are not just sidelined, or just moved along” so they can keep abusing children elsewhere, said St. Denys, executive officer for Shining Mountains Living Community Services.
She wants the abusers to be brought to justice.
Pope Francis stated that he hopes to visit Canada around the Feast of St. Anne on July 26.
St. Denys wants the head of the Roman Catholic Church to come to Alberta, which had Canada’s highest concentration of residential schools — some 25 operated from 1873 to 1998.
Sixty per cent of Canada’s residential schools were run by the Catholic Church.
St. Denys believes the world will be “shocked” by results of ground-penetrating radar now being done at graveyards of these former Alberta schools.
She noted that about half of the 150,000 Canadian Indigenous children who were forcibly removed from their families and transported to residential schools did not make it home. They often succumbed to disease and poor nutrition.
Her great-grandparents were sent to residential schools. And St. Denys believes some of her aunts and uncles were too, but none of them talked much about what happened there.
Recently, former students across Canada have told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission harrowing stories of physical and sexual abuse, including being punished for speaking their own language, or attempting to run away to rejoin their parents.
St. Denys recalled some of her predecessors grew up to mistreat their spouses and families. “They must have had a lot of anger,” she concluded.