Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis acknowledged with sadness and an apology a federal report released May 11 about abuses of Native American children in government-supported boarding schools — some run by the Catholic Church, including in Minnesota.
Hundreds of boarding schools supported by the U.S. government for 150 years sought to forcefully assimilate Native American and Indigenous children into white society, a first-of-its-kind report from the Interior Department said.
Expressing “sorrow and shame” for the complicity of Catholics in abusing Indigenous children in Canada and helping in the attempt to erase their culture, Pope Francis pledged to address the issue more fully when he visits Canada.
Members of Canada’s Assembly of First Nations gave Pope Francis a “cradleboard,” a traditional baby carrier, and asked him to keep it overnight as he reflected on what happened to Indigenous children who were sent to residential schools and, particularly, to those who never made it home again.
In three separate meetings March 28 and March 31, Pope Francis will listen to the experiences of representatives of Canada’s Indigenous communities, experiences that include being sent as children to residential schools operated by Catholic dioceses and religious orders.
Beginning March 28, residential school survivors, Indigenous elders and youth will meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican as a prelude to a papal trip to Canada. The Indigenous want an apology, on Canadian soil, for historic abuses they suffered at government-owned residential schools, many of which were run by the Catholic Church.
After Pope Francis voiced his intention earlier this year to travel to Canada as part of the nation’s reconciliation process with indigenous communities, one of the country’s top prelates has said the papal visit could come as early as next year.
In response to a late June announcement, the United States will be conducting an investigation of former federally funded boarding schools to search for graves of Native American children, a spokesperson for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said June 28 the bishops will “look for ways to be of assistance.”