Indian Residential Schools and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI Meets with Representatives of former Indian Residential School Students and the Church in Canada


In its 2008 annual report to the CCCB Plenary Assembly, the Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council had recommended that the Catholic Church in Canada, in its entirety, find a unified way to express its regret and sorrow for the role the Catholic entities played in the Residential School system. They hoped that the method of reconciliation would be made in close dialogue with Aboriginal leaders and representatives from the Catholic institutions directly implicated in the schools in order to rebuild a trusting relationship among those who must be reconciled.

At the invitation of then-CCCB President Archbishop V. James Weisgerber, Mr. Phil Fontaine, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations at the time, addressed the Plenary Assembly. There, he invited the Church to enter a new partnership with Indigenous Peoples.

The following month, during their annual visit to the Dicasteries of the Holy See in November, the CCCB President, Vice President and General Secretary raised the possibility with the Holy Father of his receiving a delegation representing Canada’s Native Peoples and missionary congregations. Such a visit would provide the Pope with the opportunity to acknowledge, on behalf of the Church, the pain and indignity suffered by many Indigenous Peoples in Canada’s former Indian Residential Schools and to express regret for the involvement of Church people in any wrongdoing.

Upon their return to Canada, CCCB President Archbishop Weisgerber, submitted a written request for this meeting to the Holy See through the Apostolic Nunciature in Canada.

Following the acceptance of this request by the Holy See, plans for the historic 29 April 2009 meeting got underway.

29 April 2009 Meeting:

Pope Benedict XVI invited members of a Canadian delegation, composed of representatives of Indigenous communities and of Catholic dioceses and religious communities in Canada, for a private meeting following his morning General Audience on April 29, 2009, to discuss their experiences with the Indian Residential Schools.

The Aboriginal representatives were all former students of residential schools: Mr. Phil Fontaine, then-National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Mr. Peter Kinew, an Elder; Mr. Edward John, Grand Chief of the Tl’azt’en Nation, British Columbia; Ms. Delia Opekokew, a Cree lawyer; and Ms Kathleen Mahoney, a professor of law and negotiator of the Indian Residential Schools settlement.

The representatives of Catholic dioceses and religious communities that were parties to the residential school system were the Most Reverend James Weisgerber, Archbishop of Winnipeg and then-President of the CCCB, the Most Reverend Gerard Pettipas, C.Ss.R., Archbishop of Grouard-McLennan and Chair of the Corporation of Catholic Entities that signed the Indian Residential School Settlement; Father Tim Coonen, O.M.I, representative of congregations of men religious that are included in the Agreement; Sister Marie Zarowny, S.S.A., representative of congregations of women religious that are included in the Agreement; and Mr. Pierre-L. Baribeau, legal advisor to the Catholic Entities.

During the meeting the Pope listened to the stories of the representatives and expressed his regret for the suffering that many Indigenous people had undergone within Indian Residential Schools. The Pope accepted gifts from members of the delegation, including a Bible written in an Aboriginal language and an eagle feather. He also presented each member of the group with a rosary.

Following the meeting, the Holy See Press Office issued the following communiqué:

“Given the sufferings that some indigenous children experienced in the Canadian Residential Schoolsystem, 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. His Holiness emphasized that acts of abuse cannot be tolerated in society. He prayed that all those affected would experience healing, and he encouraged First Nations Peoples to continue to move forward with renewed hope.”1


1Communiqué of the Holy See Press Office,;, April 29, 2009