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Canada PM urges Catholic Church to ‘take responsibility’ for ignoring role in indigenous schools

Ottawa: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday that the Catholic Church must take responsibility for its role in running many of Canada’s residential schools for indigenous children, after the discovery of the remains of 215 children at one former school last month.

Trudeau told reporters, “As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed by the position the Catholic Church has taken now and over the past many years. We expect the Church to step up and take responsibility for its role in this.”

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops did not respond to a request for comment. Between 1831 and 1996, Canada’s residential school system compulsorily separated about 150,000 children from their homes. Several were subjected to abuse, rape, and malnutrition in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 called “cultural genocide”. Run by the government and church groups – the majority of them Catholic – the schools’ stated aim was to assimilate indigenous children.

Earlier this week remains of the children were discovered from the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, which closed in 1978, has reopened old wounds and is fueling outrage about a persistent lack of information and accountability.

From 1893 to 1969, a Catholic group called the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate ran the Kamloops school, which was once Canada’s largest.

On Friday, Tk?emlúps te Secwépemc Chief Rosanne Casimir, on whose land the Kamloops school still stands, told reporters the nation has not received any records from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate that would help identify the children. Casimir said, “We do want an apology” from the Catholic Church. “A public apology. Not just for us, but for the world.”

The Canadian government formally apologized for the system in 2008. 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.” Trudeau has not directed such pointed comments at the Catholic Church over the residential schools since taking office in 2015.

Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller, on Wednesday, said on Twitter “the Church was unquestionably wrong” and his archdiocese would be transparent with its archives and records regarding residential schools.

The Conference said on its website that each diocese is separate and responsible for its own actions. “The Catholic Church as a whole in Canada was not associated with the residential schools, nor was the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops,” it said.

On Friday, United Nations human rights experts separately called on both Canada and the Vatican to additional investigate the deaths of the children found in Kamloops. “It is inconceivable that Canada and the Holy See would leave such heinous crimes unaccounted for and without full redress,” they said in a statement.


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