VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis on Sunday expressed his pain over the discovery in Canada of the remains of 215 Indigenous students of church-run residential schools and pressed religious and political authorities to shed light on “this sad affair.” But he didn’t offer the apology sought by the Canadian prime minister.
Francis, in remarks to faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square, also called on the authorities to foster healing but made no reference to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's insistence, two days earlier, that the Vatican apologize and take responsibility.
From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools, the majority of them run by Roman Catholic missionary congregations, in a campaign to assimilate them into Canadian society.
The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse was rampant in the schools, with students beaten for speaking their native languages.
Ground-penetrating radar was used to confirm the remains of the children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, British Columbia, last month. The school was Canada's largest such facility and was operated by the Catholic Church between 1890 and 1969.
"I am following with pain the news that arrives from Canada about the upsetting discovery of the remains of 215 children," Francis said in his customary Sunday noon remarks to the public.
“I join with the Canadian bishops and the entire Catholic Church in Canada in expressing my closeness to the Canadian people traumatized by the shocking news,'' Francis said.
”This sad discovery adds to the awareness of the sorrows and sufferings of the past," he added.