While many diocesan bishops and other religious communities have apologized for past abuse at native residential schools, the meeting with the Holy Father elevates this issue to the highest level of leadership in the Roman Catholic Church. To my knowledge, no other global church leader has made a formal apology of this nature. Pope Benedict has shown numerous times during his papacy a willingness to meet with victims and seek their forgiveness for the sins of the past.
Below you'll find the new release from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops:
Deep gratitude for Pope’s meaningful meeting with Canadian Aboriginal representatives - 29 April 2009
(CCCB – Ottawa)…. Following their meeting with Pope Benedict XVI earlier today, Archbishop V. James Weisgerber, President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Mr. Phil Fontaine, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, expressed their deep gratitude for the special attention given by the Holy Father to the question of Aboriginal residential schools that had been operated by Catholic dioceses and religious communities.
The private meeting with members of the Canadian delegation followed Wednesday morning’s General Audience. In addition to Archbishop Weisgerber and Chief Fontaine, the Canadian delegation was composed of representatives of Aboriginal communities and of Catholic dioceses and religious communities in Canada.
The Aboriginal representatives were all former students of residential schools: Mr. Peter Kelly, an Elder; Mr. Edward John, Grand Chief of the Tl’azt’en Nation, British Columbia; Ms. Delia Opekokew, a Cree lawyer; and Ms Kathleen Mahoney, a professor of law and negotiator of the Indian Residential Schools settlement.
The representatives of Catholic dioceses and religious communities were Most Reverend Gerard Pettipas, C.Ss.R., Archbishop of Grouard-McLennan and Chair of the Corporation of Catholic Entities that signed the Residential School Settlement Agreement; Father Tim Coonen, O.M.I, representative of congregations of men religious who are included in the Agreement; Sister Marie Zarowny, S.S.A., representative of congregations of women religious who are included in the Agreement; and Mr. Pierre-L. Baribeau, legal advisor to the Catholic Entities.
According to Archbishop Weisgerber, the Holy Father expressed his compassion toward the Aboriginal communities of Canada for the unfortunate events that occurred in the residential schools for over a century and assured them of the support of the entire Catholic Church. “His face spoke even louder than his words, “ said Archbishop Weisgerber. “He listened intently and one could see how saddened he was by these traumatic events of the past and their continued effects on the lives of the people today. The Holy Father expressed the prayer and hope that this event would help the Aboriginal communities of Canada be internally freed from this historic tragedy and enabled to create a strong future. The Pope offered his spiritual support and presence for the Church in Canada as it continues to work in partnership with Aboriginal communities in building this future together.”
Since the early 1990s, Catholic religious communities and dioceses that had been involved in the Residential Schools have expressed their regrets to the Aboriginal Peoples for the painful abuses they suffered in the schools. This meeting with Pope Benedict XVI opens a new chapter in the relationship between Aboriginal Peoples and the Catholic Church in Canada.