We call upon the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools. We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada. 

Indigenous Watchdog Status Update

Current StatusOct. 4, 2021IN PROGRESS
Previous StatusSept 5, 2021STALLED

Why “In Progress”?

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in an open letter pledged to work with the Holy See and our Indigenous partners on the possibility of a pastoral visit by the Pope to Canada as part of this healing journey. Even after the discovery of the unmarked graves of 215 Indigenous children at the Kamloops Residential School on May 27, 2021, the pope still refused to apologize and instead offered his empathy in a speech delivered at St. Peter’s Square on June 7,2021.

The pope officially refused to apologize in a formal letter delivered by the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops on March 27, 2018. The federal government has pledged to continue working on this.

Chronology of Events Around the Apology

Chronology of Events Around the Apology

Dec. 16, 2015 – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he will seek a formal apology from Pope Francis for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in residential schools, a day after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission made public its final report into the legacy of the schools.

March 27, 2018 A letter released Tuesday by the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops says Pope Francis has not shied away from recognizing injustices faced by Indigenous peoples around the world, but that he can’t personally apologize for residential schools.

“As far as Call to Action #58 is concerned, after carefully considering the request and extensive dialogue with the Bishops of Canada, he felt that he could not personally respond. At the same time, sharing your pain, he has encouraged the Bishops to continue to engage in an intensive pastoral work of reconciliation, healing and solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples and to collaborate in concrete projects aimed at improving the condition of the First Peoples. With respect to their culture and values, the Pope encourages the young to gather the wealth of traditions, experience and wisdom that comes from the Elders, whilst inviting the Elders to make this patrimony available to the young, so that they might carry it forward while facing the challenges that life presents. In this context, a future Papal visit to Canada may be considered, taking into account all circumstances, and including an encounter with the Indigenous Peoples as a top priority.”
Lionel Gendron, P.S.S., Bishop of Saint-Jean-Longueil and President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

The Catholic Church is the only church that has not formally apologized to the survivors.
 Perry Bellegarde, National Chief for the AFN, Dec. 16, 2015

March 27, 2018 – Deacon Rennie Nahanee, a Squamish First Nation Deacon and the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s co-ordinator of First Nations ministry, is one of two people chosen to represent Canadian clergy at a conference in June. Nahanee, a Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCAB) adviser on relations with Indigenous people, is representing Canada along with Bishop Mark Hagemoen of Saskatoon June 18-21. The pair will give a report at the Anglophone Safeguarding Conference, which was created in 2004 as a response to sexual abuse by clergy in an effort to make Catholic parishes and schools safer. He’s not sure he’ll meet Pope Francis, but he knows what he’ll tell him if he gets the chance.

“I’d certainly ask him about his thoughts on a visit to Canada. I would tell him why I think it’s important. His words could sway other Canadians to think about reconciliation. Us, by ourselves, in the Church, don’t move a lot of people. Someone like Pope Francis could.” (The Catholic Register)

May 2, 2018 – Parliament of Canada votes 269 to 10 across all party lines to call on Pope Francis to apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in the Indigenous Residential School system and also to call on the Catholic Church to “resume best efforts” to raise funds as agreed in the 2006 settlement deal between residential school students, religious groups that ran the schools and the federal government. The motion also asked Catholic entities to make “consistent and sustained “efforts to provide documents from the schools to former students who want them. (Toronto Star)

April 26, 2018 – The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has claimed in recent weeks, in defence of a statement that Pope Francis could not “personally respond” to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s request for an apology for residential schools, that the Catholic Church itself could not be blamed for the abuses committed at the institutions. The conference says the schools were run by 16 dioceses and about 36 orders independent of the direction or responsibility of Catholic Church, represented by the Pope in the Vatican. Yet, the OPP records along with historical files reveal that the Catholic hierarchy in Canada, from the cardinal level down to the bishop, were deeply involved with residential schools and their fingerprints are even found in the Indian Act. (CBC)

June 6, 2021: NPR – In prepared remarks delivered from St. Peter’s, a little over a week after the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children in unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, Pope Francis “expressed sorrow but never explicitly apologized for the church’s role in the forced re-education of more than 150,000 children, who were taken from their homes over a period of 150 years during the 19th and 20th centuries.

July 1, 2021: The Guardian – Pope Francis has agreed to meet Indigenous survivors of Canada’s notorious residential schools in December, amid calls for a papal apology for the Catholic church’s role in the abuse and deaths of thousands of children. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) said Francis had invited delegations to the Vatican and would meet three groups – First Nations, Métis and Inuit – separately before presiding over a final audience with all three.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCAB) said the trip was contingent on developments in the pandemic and that the delegations would include survivors of the residential schools, Indigenous elders and youths, as well as Indigenous leaders and Canadian bishops.

Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops Open Letter “Apology”

Statement of Apology by the Catholic Bishops of Canada to the Indigenous Peoples of This Land

We, the Catholic Bishops of Canada, gathered in Plenary this week, take this opportunity to affirm to you, the Indigenous Peoples of this land, that we acknowledge the suffering experienced in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools. Many Catholic religious communities and dioceses participated in this system, which led to the suppression of Indigenous languages, culture and spirituality, failing to respect the rich history, traditions and wisdom of Indigenous Peoples. We acknowledge the grave abuses that were committed by some members of our Catholic community; physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, cultural, and sexual. We also sorrowfully acknowledge the historical and ongoing trauma and the legacy of suffering and challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples that continue to this day.  Along with   those Catholic entities which were directly involved in the operation of the schools and which have already offered their own heartfelt apologies[1], we[2], the Catholic Bishops of Canada, express our profound remorse and apologize unequivocally.

We are fully committed to the process of healing and reconciliation. Together with the many pastoral initiatives already underway in dioceses across the country, and as a further tangible expression of this ongoing commitment, we are pledging to undertake fundraising in each region of the country to support initiatives discerned locally with Indigenous partners. Furthermore, we invite the Indigenous Peoples to journey with us into a new era of reconciliation, helping us in each of our dioceses across the country to prioritize initiatives of healing, to listen to the experience of Indigenous Peoples, especially to the survivors of Indian Residential Schools, and to educate our clergy, consecrated men and women, and lay faithful, on Indigenous cultures and spirituality. We commit ourselves to continue the work of providing documentation or records that will assist in the memorialization of those buried in unmarked graves.

Having heard the requests to engage Pope Francis in this reconciliation process, a delegation of Indigenous survivors, Elders/knowledge keepers, and youth will meet with the Holy Father in Rome in December 2021. Pope Francis will encounter and listen to the Indigenous participants, so as to discern how he can support our common desire to renew relationships and walk together along the path of hope in the coming years. We pledge to work with the Holy See and our Indigenous partners on the possibility of a pastoral visit by the Pope to Canada as part of this healing journey.

We commit ourselves to continue accompanying you, the First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples of this land. Standing in respect of your resiliency, strength and wisdom, we look forward to listening to and learning from you as we walk in solidarity.

24 September 2021


Official Federal Government Response: Sept. 5, 2019

On May 29, 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with His Holiness Pope Francis at the Vatican. During this meeting, the Prime Minister formally asked the Pope deliver a papal apology for the Catholic Church’s role in Indian Residential Schools.

On March 28, 2018 the Prime Minister received a letter from a senior representative of the Catholic Church in Canada, which stated that Pope Francis would not issue an apology. The Prime Minister told reporters that, “obviously I am disappointed in the Catholic Church’s decision not to apologize for their role in residential schools.” The Government of Canada will continue to advocate for a papal apology. .