Pope Francis Headed to Canada to Apologize for Dead Kids Buried in Mass Graves

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TIZIANA FABI/AFP via Getty Images
TIZIANA FABI/AFP via Getty Images

ROME—Pope Francis traveled to Canada on Sunday to ask for atonement for the hasty burial of hundreds of Indigenous children—some as young as 3—who died in the Catholic Church’s care from the 19th century to the 1970s.

The trip is a product of the 2021 discovery of an unmarked grave containing the remains of some 215 Indigenous children who died in a Catholic residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. Around 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from families to be “retrained” in Christian beliefs in the 19th century, a practice that carried on for decades.

Among the documented practices were beatings when the children spoke their Native languages, and brainwashing to assimilate into Canadian Christian life.

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In 2015, the Canadian government launched a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to try to determine what happened to thousands of those children who never returned home. The discovery of the Kamloops grave has led to mass excavations of other residential school yards in search of answers. In March, representatives of the groups met with the pope in Rome in a highly contentious meeting that was peppered with what many called hypocritical displays of Indigenous dancing and gift giving.

The discovery has sparked criticism among abuse survivors who say the pope’s visit will do nothing to protect children from ongoing abuse.

“Sadly, it took the discovery of mass graves and the realization of murder, rape, and enslavement to trigger a response from the Vatican,” the head of Canada’s Survival Network for Those Abused By Priests, known as SNAP, Brenda Brunelle said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “This is long overdue, necessary, and not good enough.”

She said the apostolic visit is veiled in hypocrisy. “It may be meaningful for some, many may find his visit traumatizing,” she said. “Church officials have taken decades to acknowledge any part of the dark chapters in Canadian history. Because Pope Francis is making a widely publicized visit, we can’t help but ask if a child anywhere on earth is safer now that a pope has landed back at the crime scene? No.”

The visit will take the pontiff first to Edmonton, where he is expected to apologize to First Nations leaders, before traveling to Quebec City and later Iqaluit, Nunavut, in the far northern provinces. Unlike most papal trips, this is not a moment to celebrate the Catholic Church. He will give a mass of repentance on Tuesday in Edmonton to a crowd expected to reach 65,000. He will also visit various First Nations sights each day of his six-day visit.

Survivors are demanding more than an apology. They want the Vatican to return artifacts from the Vatican Museum they say belong to them. They also want records from the Vatican archives about how the victims died, criminal justice brought against the abusers and financial reparations—none of which are expected to be granted.

The Inuit community also wants the Vatican to help extradite Joannes Rivoire, a priest with the Oblate order who headed much of the most horrific abuse, extradited from France on an arrest warrant for child sex abuse issued by Canada in 1998. Inuit leader Natan Obed has already asked Francis for his personal help, but the Vatican press office says they “don’t have any information on the case.”

The visit is expected to draw protests at each of the pope’s events, which is a far cry from the accolades he is accustomed to receiving. “This apology validates our experiences and creates an opportunity for the church to repair relationships with Indigenous peoples across the world,” Grand Chief George Arcand Jr., of the Confederacy of Treaty Six said ahead of the visit. “It doesn’t end here—there is a lot to be done. It is a beginning.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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