Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Pope Francis should come to Canada and apologize on behalf of the Catholic Church for its role in running residential schools for Indigenous children, after hundreds of bodies were located in two unmarked graves.
Trudeau said Friday in Ottawa that he spoke with the pope one day after Cowessess First Nation announced that some 751 unmarked graves at the site of the former Marieval Residential School in Saskatchewan, the Canadian province that borders Montana and North Dakota.
“I have spoken personally directly with His Holiness Pope Francis to press upon him how important it is not just that he makes an apology but that he makes an apology to Indigenous Canadians on Canadian soil,” Trudeau told reporters.
“I know that the Catholic Church leadership is looking and very actively engaged in what next steps can be taken,” he added.
Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme said in a news conference last Thursday that the Catholic Church operated the school and its graveyard from 1886 to 1970 and removed headstones at the graves in the 1960s. He said a search of the grounds resulted in 751 “hits” but that the radar used has a 10% to 15% error rate.
“We cannot affirm that they are all children,” he said. “This is not a mass gravesite. These are unmarked graves.”
Weeks earlier, 215 unmarked graves were found at the site of the now-shuttered Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. Trudeau apologized to Indigenous Canadians after the remains were found.
The residential school system, which operated between 1831 and 1996, removed about 150,000 Indigenous children from their families and brought them to Christian residential schools, mostly Catholic, run on behalf of the federal government, Reuters reported.
The Vatican has yet to address the latest findings. While he stopped short of an apology, Pope Francis called for reconciliation after the discovery of the 215 graves earlier this month.
“The sad discovery further raises awareness of the pains and sufferings of the past,” he said.
“These difficult moments represent a strong appeal for all of us, to move away from the colonizing model and also from the ideological colonization of today,” he added.