Seth Udinski, FISM News
In a controversial statement from his visit to Canada, Pope Francis I issued a penitent apology on Monday to the native people groups of the region for what he referred to as the “deplorable” historical actions of Roman Catholics against indigenous peoples.
Religious news sources had been predicting such an apology for some time now in what has become known as a “penitential pilgrimage” for the Bishop of Rome.
His apology specifically addressed the actions of Catholic priests, parishes, and churches during the last several centuries in Canada.
Throughout the colonial period and beyond, particularly in Canada, Catholic clergymen have been accused of the forced assimilation of native people groups into Catholic churches and schools and, on other occasions, forced conversions. Some reports suggest that the most egregious actions took place recently, beginning in the 19th century and continuing into the latter half of the 20th century. Sources indicate that roughly 150,000 native children were forcibly removed from their homes and made to attend Catholic schools and assimilate into Catholic culture.
Francis addressed this in his apology, saying, “I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the indigenous peoples…I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the ways in which many members of the Church and of religious communities cooperated, not least through their indifference, in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of that time, which culminated in the system of residential schools.”
This is a difficult situation for Christians to navigate. On one hand, we should condemn injustice, and certainly, the Catholic Church in Canada was responsible for a vast injustice. This included, perhaps most shockingly, the practice of forced conversion, which completely undercuts biblical evangelism.
Additionally, the waters become even more murky when considering the Catholic Church’s controversial reputation throughout history in this matter, specifically during the Crusades, the medieval Inquisition, the Age of Exploration, and the Reformation.
At the same time, Christians must be on guard against throwing the baby out with the bathwater and allowing the misdeeds and evils of some to taint the great work that missionaries have done throughout the world for centuries. We must also remember that all have sinned and woefully missed the mark of God’s standard of righteousness and are all in need of His mercy and grace.
Despite the missteps along the way, the true Church – made up of those who have accepted Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, not just adhere to a religious system – remains the Church, and as the Lord Jesus promised in Matthew 16, “the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”