The Catholic Church must take responsibility for its role in running many of Canada’s residential schools for indigenous children, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday, after the discovery of the remains of 215 children at one former school.
“As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed by the position the Catholic Church has taken now and over the past many years,” Trudeau told reporters. “We expect the Church to step up and take responsibility for its role in this.”
Between 1831 and 1996, Canada’s residential school system forcibly separated about 150,000 children from their homes. Many were subjected to abuse, rape and malnutrition in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 called “cultural genocide”.
Run by the government and church groups, most of them Catholic, the schools’ stated aim was to assimilate indigenous children.
The discovery of the bones of children from the Kamloops Indian Residential School, which closed in 1978, has resurrected old scars and fueled fury about a lack of information and accountability.
Many people are “wondering why the Catholic Church in Canada is silent, is not stepping forward,” according to Trudeau.
“I am really hopeful that religious leaders will recognize this is something they need to participate in and not hide from before we have to start taking the Catholic Church to court,” he added.