Inuit and Métis delegations on Monday held private audiences with Pope Francis at the Vatican, seeking “substantive actions led and directed” by the Pope.
A First Nations delegation will meet the Pope on Thursday as Indigenous peoples press for the Catholic Church to take action over the decades of suffering inflicted through the residential school system.
A key request of the delegations is that the Pope deliver an apology, in Canada, for the Church’s role in that system and other forms of trauma.
Inuit leader Natan Obed said he had delivered that request in person on Monday during an hour-long meeting between the Pope and seven Inuit delegates.
In a news release, Obed was quoted as telling Pope Francis only papal leadership could deliver “lasting reconciliation between Inuit and the Church.”
Obed sought the immediate payment of $25 million in financial restitution related to a prior residential school settlement agreement, and – in calling for an apology to be delivered in Canada – named survivors of Inuvik’s Grollier Hall residential school, among others, as people who deserved to hear that apology.
He asked that the Pope “commit to working with police, governments and Inuit to bring about justice for survivors of abuse and their families,” including by directing the priest Johannes Rivoire, accused of sexually assaulting children in Nunavut, to return to Canada. Rivoire returned to France, which does not extradite its citizens, in 1993.
A warrant for Rivoire’s arrest had been outstanding in Canada since 1998 but was cancelled in 2018, in part as the prospect of trying him appeared remote. Even so, Canadian authorities have said the possibility of trying Rivoire still exists if further evidence comes to light and he returns to Canada.
Obed concluded by asking the Pope to “do what is right, what is just, what is needed, and what is entirely within your power as Pontiff.”
‘We hope he heard our stories’
Following their meeting with the Pope, Métis leaders said no immediate apology had been forthcoming but they felt a commitment toward reconciliation had been secured. The Pope was said to have restated a commitment to travel to Canada and meet survivors.
“Today we extended that invitation to the Pope and to all of you, to join us on our path of truth, reconciliation, healing and justice,” Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron told reporters at a news conference following the meeting.
“We have talked at length about how we can continue this work in Canada,” Caron said, describing ongoing discussions with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. “We can commit to meetings on a regular basis where we can establish priorities that come from our communities and continue to move forward.
“We hope that the Pope heard our stories, that he acknowledges and truly understands, that he translates those stories from his head to his heart and then into action.”
Archbishop of Regina Donald Bolen, representing the conference of bishops, said following the Métis meeting: “The Pope’s perspective today was principally about listening and I think we had the experience of him listening very deeply, and engaging on a very personal level.
“A lot of hard truths were spoken, but they were spoken in a very gracious, and in a very poignant and in a very powerful way.
“There was an invitation extended – and there’s a such a strong desire to accept that invitation, to walk together, to find a way to walk together in a good way.”