The Pope apologized and promised a “serious investigation” into what happened in a speech at a meeting with Aboriginal people in Edmonton, Alberta, on Monday.
Indigenous leaders have long called for a papal apology for the damage done to Indigenous children for decades, who have suffered abuse and the erasure of Indigenous culture in the country’s boarding schools.
“I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the ways in which many members of the Church and religious groups cooperated, not least through their indifference, in the projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by governments at the time, which culminated in the boarding school system.”
Last year, hundreds of unmarked graves were discovered on the grounds of former residential schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission reported that more than 4,000 Aboriginal children died from either neglect or abuse in boarding schools, many of which were run by the Catholic Church.
“In the face of this unfortunate evil, the Church kneels before God and asks him to forgive the sins of her children,” the Pope said. “I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil that so many Christians have committed against the natives.”
The Pope stressed that his apology is just the first step in correcting these errors.
“An important part of this process will be to conduct a serious investigation into the facts of what happened in the past and to help the survivors of the boarding schools experience recovery from the trauma they have experienced,” he said.
Francis, 85, had a trip to Africa canceled earlier this month due to problems with his knee.