Pope Benedict XVI has met privately with a delegation of Canadian native people to express his sorrow for the abuse suffered by indigenous children in Canadian residential schools. The meeting took place at the end of last week.
The delegation, which included Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine, former students of residential schools and elders, came to the Vatican at the Pope's invitation. The Canadian group also included Archbishop V. James Weisgerber, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and representatives from several Catholic dioceses and religious communities.
"Given the sufferings that some indigenous children experienced in the Canadian residential school system, the Holy Father expressed his sorrow at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the church and he offered his sympathy and prayerful solidarity," a statement from the Vatican said.
"His Holiness emphasized that acts of abuse cannot be tolerated in society. He prayed that all those affected would experience healing and encouraged First Nations Peoples to continue to move forward with renewed hope," the statement added.
Critics and the media noted that the statement was not an official apology.
CBC News in Canada reported that Fontaine, who was a student in a residential school and has spoken out about the abuse he suffered, nevertheless said he hoped the Pope's expression of regret would "close the book" on the issue of apologies for residential school survivors.
"The fact that the word 'apology' was not used does not diminish this moment in any way," he said. "This experience gives me great comfort."
Others say that the Vatican and Catholic church representatives need more official contrition, and that there needs to be admission of the failings of formation and supervision at the heart of so many abuse cases that have come to light across the world in recent years.
According to a statement from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the native representatives were all former students of residential schools: Peter Kelly, an elder; Edward John, grand chief of the Tl'azt'en Nation, British Columbia; Delia Opekokew, a Cree lawyer; and Kathleen Mahoney, a professor of law and negotiator of the Indian Residential Schools settlement.