Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Role of Church in Canadian Abuses

April 15, 2009. New York Times
Pope Expected to Address Role of Church in Canadian Abuses
OTTAWA — Pope Benedict XVI is expected this month to acknowledge the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the forcing of about 150,000 Native Canadians into residential schools where many were sexually and physically abused, the country’s most prominent native leader said Tuesday.
Last June the government of Canada, which financed the schools, apologized to former students through a special parliamentary ceremony. Three Protestant denominations that operated some of the schools have also offered apologies. That left the Roman Catholic Church, which ran the majority of the schools, as the only unheard voice.
“This has been a source of major tension between the church and our people,” Phil Fontaine, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, the national association of native groups, said in an interview on Tuesday. “The missing piece in all of this has been an apology from the Catholic Church.”
Aside from abuse, the government acknowledged that the schools were intended to eradicate native culture through a program it called “aggressive assimilation.” Attendance became compulsory in 1920 for native children between the ages of 7 and 16. The last of the schools closed during the 1970s, and in 2006 the government agreed to pay 1.9 billion Canadian dollars, about $1.73 billion at the time, to the surviving students.
Mr. Fontaine, who attended two Catholic residential schools where he said he was sexually abused, said that he and four other former students and native leaders had been invited to meet the pope at the Vatican on April 29.
Exactly what statement the church will make afterward is unclear.
Mr. Fontaine said he hoped the pope “will acknowledge the role of the church and his statement will reflect the harms that were inflicted.”
A spokesman for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said that Archbishop James Weisgerber, whom Mr. Fontaine credited with arranging the meeting, would formally announce the papal audience on Wednesday.

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