Pope to acknowledge suffering at Canadian schools

TORONTO (AP) âÄî Pope Benedict XVI is expected to acknowledge abuse of aboriginals at Christian-run schools when he meets with survivors later this month at the Vatican, a spokesman for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said Wednesday. From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 Indian children were made to attend state-funded Christian schools as an effort to assimilate them into Canadian society. Nearly 75 percent of the 130 schools were run by Catholic missionary congregations. Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized in Parliament last year, calling the physical and sexual abuse of children at the schools a sad chapter in the country’s history. The pope plans to express regret when he meets with former students April 29, said Gerald Baril, spokesman for the bishops group. The delegation will be led by Phil Fontaine, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and Archbishop James Weisgerber, the conference president. Baril and Fontaine said they didn’t know whether Benedict would issue a formal apology. “What is important here is to have his holiness acknowledge the role of the Catholic Church,” Fontaine told The Associated Press. “We hope that this will give comfort to the many thousands of survivors that experienced such a painful time.” Fontaine noted Benedict expressed personal shame over a clergy sex abuse scandal in the U.S. when he visited America last year and he wants the pontiff to do the same in this case. Benedict also visited Australia last summer and publicly condemned sexual predators in the church, apologizing to their victims. “We hope that it’s an expansive statement that is no less what was heard in the United States and Australia,” Fontaine said. “This is a historic and momentous occasion for us.” The United, Presbyterian and Anglican churches have apologized for their roles in the abuse. The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse in the schools was rampant. Many students recall being beaten for speaking their native languages and losing touch with their parents and customs. That legacy of abuse and isolation has been blamed by Indian leaders on epidemic rates of alcoholism and drug addiction on reservations. Canada’s more than 1 million aboriginals remain the country’s poorest and most disadvantaged group. Canada has offered those who were taken from their families compensation for the years they attended the residential schools. The offer was part of a lawsuit settlement between the government, churches and the approximately 90,000 surviving students. A truth and reconciliation commission will also examine government policy and take testimony from survivors. The goal is to give survivors a forum to tell their stories and educate Canadians about a grim period in the country’s history. ___ On the Net: Assembly of First Nations: http://www.afn.ca Indian and Northern Affairs Canada: http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca Truth and Reconciliation Commission: http://www.trc-cvr.ca