The Catholic Bishops of Canada formally apologized Friday to Canada's Indigenous peoples for the church's role in running Indian residential schools.
The Bishops acknowledged the "grave abuses" suffered by Indigenous children who were forced to attend the schools beginning around 1825. By the time the last school closed in the mid-1990s, about 150,000 Indigenous children went through the 139 schools, 60 percent of which were run by Catholic organizations.
"We, the Catholic Bishops of Canada, gathered in Plenary (a meeting of prayer and penance) this week, take this opportunity to affirm to you, the Indigenous Peoples of this land, that we acknowledge the suffering experienced in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools," the statement from the bishops said. "Many Catholic religious communities and dioceses participated in this system, which led to the suppression of Indigenous languages, culture and spirituality, failing to respect the rich history, traditions and wisdom of Indigenous Peoples."
The bishops said that they wish to "express our profound remorse and apologize unequivocally."
"We acknowledge the grave abuses that were committed by some members of our Catholic community; physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, cultural, and sexual. We also sorrowfully acknowledge the historical and ongoing trauma and the legacy of suffering and challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples that continue to this day."
Hundreds of unmarked graves have been uncovered at several former residential schools this summer.
The bishops extended a laurel leaf to Canada's three Aboriginal (Indigenous) tribes - Metis, Inuit and First Nations - to join together in the process of healing and reconciliation, and further promised to "undertake fundraising in each region of the country to support initiatives" to (finance) the programs designed to aid in healing.
The bishops also reaffirmed that Pope Francis will meet with Indigenous leaders in Rome.
"Having heard the requests to engage Pope Francis in this reconciliation process, a delegation of Indigenous survivors, Elders/knowledge keepers, and youth will meet with the Holy Father in Rome in December 2021" the statement read.
For the first time the bishops also said the pope may come to Canada to apologize, an action Indigenous leaders have called for repeatedly.
There had been no comment from Indigenous leaders to the bishops' statement as of press time.