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Canadian residential schools: Anglicans apologize, Catholics do not

Canadian residential schools: Anglicans apologize, Catholics do not

Both Canadian Anglicans and Catholics ran indigenous schools for indigenous children. Both have  grim histories (The Episcopal Church is not exempt). Most recent is the revelation of a mass grave at a Catholic residential school.


The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in British Columbia announced that the remains of 215 children had been found on the grounds of the former boarding school. Indigenous Canadians had known for years that some children never returned from the schools, but this is the first time a major burial site has been discovered.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and others have called for an apology.

NPR, again:

Although Francis expressed sorrow on Sunday, he never explicitly apologized for the church’s role in the forced reeducation of more than 150,000 children, who were taken from their homes over a period of 150 years during the 19th and 20th centuries. Many of the children were forced to become Christians, were forbidden from speaking their native languages, and were often abused. In 2015 a national commission condemned the treatment as “cultural genocide.”

Why no apology from Pope Francis? The Globe and Mail:

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has yet to recommend a formal apology on behalf of the Vatican. On June 4, it said in a statement: “The Catholic Church as a whole in Canada was not associated with the Residential Schools, nor was the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

It said that 16 of the 70 Canadian dioceses, and three dozen religious communities, were associated with the schools, but that each was “corporately and legally responsible for its own actions.”

By contrast, The Most Rev. Linda Nicholls, Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada issued this statement reminding us that the ACC also had residential schools, and she included an apology:

Every Child Matters

Last week the Chief of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation revealed news of the discovery of the bodies of 215 children at the site of an unmarked burial ground at a former residential school near Kamloops, B.C. The identities of the children are unknown at this time. The grief of families and communities unleashed by this news is heartwrenching and profound.

There have long been stories told in Indigenous communities of children who disappeared or never returned home from residential school and whose parents were never told what had happened or given the opportunity to receive their bodies for community ceremony. Whether the deaths were due to illnesses, abuse or neglect, the lack of dignity offered to these children by an anonymous burial far from their family or community is tragic and unacceptable.

We grieve with all whose children never came home.

The Anglican Church of Canada shares in the painful legacy of residential schools. We remain committed to the long, hard road of reconciliation including apologies made for our part in residential schools (1993) and for the devastating spiritual harm caused (2019) and ongoing work towards reconciliation and support for healing for personal and intergenerational trauma.

We know there are sites at Anglican residential schools where some graves are unmarked or where records are incomplete. We are committed to working with Indigenous communities to assist to recover whatever information is available and to join in advocating for ground searches of those burial sites.

At the heart of our faith is the life of Jesus who said, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. (Mark 10”14b-16) The neglect of the dignity of children, whom Jesus welcomed and protected, calls for repentance in action.

We, as Anglicans, commit to working with Indigenous communities, leaders and elders to heal this legacy and honour the lives of the children who never went home.

+Linda Nicholls

The Most Rev. Linda Nicholls
Archbishop and Primate


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Christopher Jenks

My 2x great grandmother was taken from her family and raised in a “Christian” religious orphanage in Manitoba, sometime in the mid 19th century. We’re not sure of the denomination, but it could well have been Anglican. She never knew her birth name nor her nation, although she was probably from one of the Plains nations in that part of the North America. My grandfather knew her when she was an old woman, and described her as a sad and emotionally repressed person. That was passed on down through the generations, with a lot of examples of severe mental illness and Substance Use Disorder in my family. While this cannot all be attributed directly to what happened to her, it certainly played a role. “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” (Jeremiah 31:29. Admittedly out of context, but that’s what came to mind.)

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