Pope Benedict XVI has expressed lament over the abuse of 80,000 Canadian Indian children at Catholic Church-run boarding schools.
The pope “expressed his sorrow at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the church and… emphasised that acts of abuse cannot be tolerated in society,” the Vatican said in a communique.
The statement came after the German pontiff met with Phil Fontaine, national chief of Canada\’s Assembly of First Nations, and James Weisgerber, the archbishop of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Weisgerber told reporters after the meeting that the pope had said he was “sorry for what happened, personally and in the name of the Church”.
Beginning in 1874 and until the 1970s, 150,000 Indian, Inuit and Metis children in Canada were forcibly enrolled in 132 boarding schools run by Christian churches on behalf of the federal government in an effort to integrate them into society.
Fontaine is among 80,000 former students at the schools living with the memories of sexual and other abuse by headmasters and teachers who stripped them of their culture and language.
They say their education left them disconnected from their families, communities and feeling ashamed of being born native.
The pope “prayed that all those affected would experience healing, and he encouraged First Nations Peoples to continue to move forward with renewed hope,” the Vatican statement said.
“To have him say this to us is very important,” Fontaine told the news conference. “He knows about our sufferings… It gives me comfort.”
Weisgerber said the pope had shown a keen awareness of the history of abuse, and that he had “expressed it from the bottom of his heart”.
Benedict noted that the episode was all the more lamentable given that “Catholics are attached to the family and these children were torn from their families”, Weisgerber said.
\’Close the book on issue\’
Speaking earlier to Canada\’s CBC television, Fontaine said: “We can now close the book on this issue of apologies” – even though the Vatican communique did not use the word.
He said the pope had spoken of “his own personal anguish over this issue, the fact that so many innocent children were abused sexually and in other ways, and that this was simply intolerable… and he had such profound regret for what had been done to so many children”.
Other church denominations and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper have apologised for what Fontaine described as “the darkest chapter in Canada\’s history”.
The Canadian government also welcomed Benedict expression of sadness.
Canada\’s Minister of Indian Affairs Chuck Strahl described Benedict\’s statement as “a significant step that will allow former students and their families to continue with their healing process”.