Marie Wilson

Marie Wilson

April 18, 2016

A request to Pope Francis for an apology in Canada for the Catholic Church's role in Indian residential schools has gone to the Vatican, says the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi.

"The pope has received this invitation, this request, from the First Nations," Bonazzi said. "He is considering it."

The Truth and Reconciliation Commissions' (TRC) call for the pope to apologize for Indian residential schools on Canadian soil within a year of the June 2015 publication of the TRC's 94 Calls to Action is one of two that had a time limit, TRC Commissioner Marie Wilson said March 30 at an Ottawa news conference.

"We heard many survivors say 'My Church has not apologized to me,'" she said.

Asked if an apology from Pope Francis would be enough, she responded, "I'm certain it won't be enough. It's all just movement forward.

"No one thing will be perfect for everyone," she said. "But we have to keep trying."

Wilson acknowledged many bishops and Catholic organizations have apologized over the years, and the structure of the Catholic Church as a group of dioceses and entities rather than one national Church has not permitted one Canadian response.

Many of the 7,000 witnesses the TRC heard wanted a "corporate response," she said.

Wilson responded to an ecumenical statement made by an array of Protestant churches on Call to Action 48 asking all faith communities to bring their policies in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) by March 31.

Though organized by KAIROS, no Catholic leaders were present.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Canadian Religious Conference, the Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council, and the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace published their response to Call to Action 48 the previous day.


They expressed support for UNDRIP and said "its spirit can point a way forward to reconciliation between

indigenous and non-indigenous people in Canada."

The organizations also pointed out that the Holy See's mission to the United Nations "has explicitly endorsed this declaration on numerous occasions."

They further appealed to all Canadian Catholics to make eight commitments to "continue to walk together with indigenous peoples in building a more just society where their gifts and those of all people are nurtured and honoured."

The doctrine of discovery and the notion that the Americas were terra nullius (no one's land) were illegitimate concepts "used by Europeans to justify the seizure of land previously held by indigenous peoples," the Catholic groups said, explicitly repudiating those concepts.


The TRC report spoke of cultural genocide against Canada's indigenous peoples. At the press conference, Wilson said she had not expected to hear how often witnesses spoke of "spiritual abuse" at the schools.

The calls to action were not issued "to make people comfortable," or to represent a "kinder, gentler assimilation," she said. They are "not optional." The TRC deliberately made them "sound imperative."

Wilson called the response of the faith communities "bold" and "courageous."

"We, too, have been part of colonialization," she said, and through that have supported "spiritual displacement."

Wilson said not all survivors' experiences of the Church were the same.

Some said, "I hate the Church; I'll never set foot in the church again," she said. Others said they felt "hurt" and injured when people spoke ill of the Church. Some said the Church had been "key to my healing."

Others said, "It wasn't the Church who did these things to us; it was individuals who hid behind the Church who did these things to us."