Bishops write MPs & senators to address 'inaccuracies' around residential schools apology

Canada's Catholic Bishops have written to members of the House of Commons and Senate in an effort to clear up misunderstandings and inaccuracies around the Church's role in residential schools and the request for a papal apology to be made on Canadian soil. They released the letter on Monday, in anticipation of a motion being introduced in the Commons this week.

The motion is expected to ask the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) to invite Pope Francis to come to Canada to apologize on behalf of the Catholic Church for its role in the former Indian Residential Schools; to resume efforts to raise the $25 million specified in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA); and to make a consistent and sustained effort to turn over relevant residential school documents. The Bishops address all three items in the detailed letter to parliamentarians.

The federal government established the Indian residential schools and then contracted with a number of religious organizations, including Catholic dioceses and religious orders, to operate them. Fifteen of these schools were operated by Catholic entities in Alberta, including schools at Hobbema (now Maskwacis) and St. Albert. The Archdiocese of Edmonton did not operate any of the schools, but did contribute funds to the Settlement Agreement. 

"The Holy Father has already been invited by the present and previous Prime Minister," the letter states. "The Catholic Bishops of Canada, including the current and past Presidents of the Conference, have assured the Pope they would joyfully and gratefully welcome him in a visit to Canada. Likewise, in a number of instances, Canadian Bishops, individually and collectively, have formally invited Pope Francis to visit, including with specific reference to Call to Action #58. Such a visit, however, depends on many factors, including timing, nature, intention, human, structural and financial resources, as well as the surrounding protocol."

As for further financial payments, the letter states: "The 'Roman Catholic Entities' named as parties in the IRSSA were legally deemed to have fulfilled the requirements of the settlement agreement by a judicial review. Following this review, the former Conservative government released the entities from further obligations – a decision which the present Liberal government did not appeal."

On the question of turning over records, the Bishops note that the CCCB has no residential school records or authority over those who may hold records.