Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called out the Catholic Church — again — for refusing to apologize for its part in operating many of the country’s residential schools for indigenous children following the shocking discovery of the remains of 215 students at one former school last month.
“As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed by the position the Catholic Church has taken now and over the past many years,” Trudeau told the media Friday. “We expect the Church to step up and take responsibility for its role in this.”
More than 150,000 indigenous children were forcibly taken from their homes between 1831 and 1996 and placed in schools where they often suffered abuse, rape and malnutrition. The 2015 report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called what happened to the children in the schools “cultural genocide.”
The schools were run by the government and churches, mainly Catholic. The stated purpose of the schools was to assimilate the indigenous children.
In 2008, the Canadian government formally apologized for the schools. Trudeau said many are “wondering why the Catholic Church in Canada is silent, is not stepping up.”
Trudeau described visiting the Vatican in 2017 and asking Pope Francis for an apology at that time. He said he’s still waiting.
Trudeau added that he hoped the Vatican would apologize or else he would “have to start taking the Catholic Church to court.”
The burial site at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, which includes 215 bodies — some as young as 3 years old — was discovered last month with the help of ground-penetrating radar. The school was run by the Roman Catholic Church from 1890 to 1978.
United Nations human rights experts on Friday called on both Canada and the Vatican to further investigate the deaths of the children found in Kamloops.
“It is inconceivable that Canada and the Holy See would leave such heinous crimes unaccounted for and without full redress,” they said in a statement.