Quebec: For the first time since the start of a Canadian tour highlighted by apologies for the Catholic Church’s role in Indigenous residential schools, Pope Francis on Thursday acknowledged sexual abuse inflicted on “minors and vulnerable people.’’
Speaking at a prayer service at Quebec City’s Notre-Dame de Quebec Basilica-Cathedral, Francis said the church in Canada is on a new path after being devastated by “the evil perpetrated by some of its sons and daughters.’’
“I think in particular of the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable people, crimes that require firm action and an irreversible commitment,’’ he said in an address delivered in his native Spanish.
Francis has apologized during both the Alberta and Quebec legs of his visit for the role Catholic institutions played in the Indigenous residential school system and until Thursday he had not mentioned sexual abuse. However, he did not specifically say sexual abuse happened at residential schools.
He said the Christian community must never again allow itself to be “infected’’ by the idea that one culture is superior to another, reiterating his plea for forgiveness. “The pain and the shame we feel must become an occasion for conversion: never again!’’
Francis received a long-standing ovation after his address from the invitation-only congregation, which included bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians and pastoral workers from across Canada.
Indigenous people have been expressing a mixture of hope and skepticism over the Pope’s visit, with some saying they want to hear about the actions that will follow the pontiff’s historic apologies.
Anishinaabe activist Sarain Fox and her cousin Chelsea Brunelle raised their fists Thursday morning as they held up a large banner reading “Rescind the doctrine’’ inside the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre, just ahead of a mass led by Francis. The banner referred to the Doctrine of Discovery, which stems from a series of edicts, known as papal bulls, dating back to the 15th century.
In an interview after the service, Fox said that while some of the Pope’s words on his Canadian trip were meaningful even beautiful “actions speak louder than words.’’
The Pope, she said, has failed to make it clear that the entire religious organization, not just a few bad people, was responsible for residential school abuses. And he has not commented on the doctrine that was used to justify colonizing lands that were considered to be uninhabited but were in fact home to Indigenous Peoples.
The women said they hadn’t travelled from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., planning to protest but changed their minds after being offended by what they saw as a lack of Indigenous representation and care for survivors at Wednesday’s papal events.
“My experience in Quebec has been that this entire event feels like no one consulted with the Indigenous community,’’ she said. “It doesn’t feel like we’re a part of it.’’
The theme of the mass was reconciliation, and the congregation was made up largely of residential school survivors and other Indigenous people. During his homily, the pontiff used two Bible stories
By Brittany Hobson and Sidhartha Banerjee
The Canadian Press