The Catholic Church must take responsibility for its role in running many of Canada’s residential schools for indigenous children, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday, after the discovery of the remains of 215 children in an old school last month. .
“As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed in the position that the Catholic Church has taken now and in recent years,” Trudeau told reporters. “We hope that the Church will step forward and take responsibility for her role in this.”
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops did not respond to a request for comment.
Between 1831 and 1996, Canada’s residential school system forcibly removed some 150,000 children from their homes. Many were subjected to abuse, rape and malnutrition in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 called “cultural genocide”.
Run by government and church groups, most of them Catholic, the stated goal of the schools was to assimilate indigenous children.
The discovery this week of the children’s remains at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, which closed in 1978, has reopened old wounds and is fueling outrage over the persistent lack of information and accountability.
From 1893 to 1969, a Catholic congregation called Missionaries Oblates of Mary Immaculate ran the Kamloops school, which was once the largest in Canada.
On Friday, the head of Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc, Rosanne Casimir, on whose property the Kamloops school still stands, told reporters that the nation has not received any records from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate that help identify the children.
“We want an apology” from the Catholic Church, Casimir said. “A public apology. Not just for us, but for the world. ”
In 2008, the Canadian government formally apologized for the system. Trudeau said many are “wondering why the Catholic Church in Canada is silent, not stepping forward.”
He added: “Before we have to start taking the Catholic Church to court, I am very hopeful that religious leaders understand that this is something they should be involved in and not hide in.”
Trudeau has not directed such direct comments to the Catholic Church about residential schools since he took office in 2015.
On Wednesday, Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller said on Twitter that “the Church was indisputably wrong” and that his archdiocese would be transparent with its files and records related to residential schools.
The Conference said on its website that each diocese is independent and responsible for its own actions.
“The Catholic Church as a whole in Canada was not associated with residential schools, nor was the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops,” he said. Separately, United Nations human rights experts on Friday called on both Canada and the Vatican to further investigate the deaths of children found in Kamloops.
“It is inconceivable that Canada and the Holy See would stop these heinous crimes unaccounted for and without full reparation,” they said in a statement.