Pope Francis expressed pain on Sunday over the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children at a Catholic Church-run residential school in Canada.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had criticised the church for its silence, calling on it to formally apologise. Pope Francis urged authorities to shed light on “this sad affair” but he did not apologise.
More than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend the Christian schools, many of which where run by the Catholic Church.
The Canadian government admitted that physical and sexual abuse was rampant in the schools.
“I am following with pain the news that arrives from Canada about the upsetting discovery of the remains of 215 children,” Pope Francis said in his Sunday noon remarks to the public.
“I join with the Canadian bishops and the entire Catholic Church in Canada in expressing my closeness to the Canadian people traumatised by the shocking news,” Francis said.
”This sad discovery adds to the awareness of the sorrows and sufferings of the past,” he added.
The British Columbia school where the remains were found with ground-penetrating radar was Canada’s largest facility and operated by the Catholic Church between 1890 and 1969.
Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation in British Columbia has said her nation wants a public apology from the Catholic Church.
Francis’ comments spoke of healing but not of apology.
“May the political and religious authorities continue to collaborate with determination to shed light on this sad affair and to commit humbly to a path of reconciliation and healing,″ Francis said.
“These difficult moments represent a strong call to distance ourselves from the colonial model and from today’s ideological colonising and to walk side by side in dialogue, in mutual respect and in recognising rights and cultural values of all the daughters and sons of Canada,” the pope said.
“Let’s entrust to the Lord the souls of all those children, deceased in the residential schools of Canada,” the pontiff added. “Let us pray for the families and for the indigenous Canadian communities overcome by sorrow.”
Francis then asked the public in the square below his window to join him in silent prayer.
The United, Presbyterian and Anglican churches have apologised for their roles in the abuse, as has the Canadian government, which has offered compensation.