U.S. Catholic Bishops Apologize for Traumas of Indian Boarding Schools - The World News

U.S. Catholic Bishops Apologize for Traumas of Indian Boarding Schools

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a formal apology on Friday for the church’s role in the mistreatment and trauma experienced by Native Americans in the United States, notably in church-operating boarding schools that sought to force the assimilation of Native children into American culture.

Starting in the 19th century, hundreds of thousands of Native children were removed from their families and sent to the schools, where they often faced abuse, neglect and hard labor. Of the more than 500 Native boarding schools set up across the country, most with federal involvement or support, 87 were Catholic-run, according to a document from the research group Catholic Truth and Healing.

“The family systems of many Indigenous Peoples never fully recovered from these tragedies, which often led to broken homes harmed by addiction, domestic abuse, abandonment, and neglect,” the bishops wrote in a 56-page document issued on Friday called a pastoral framework. “The Church recognizes that it has played a part in traumas experienced by Native children.”

More broadly, the document says about the mistreatment of Native Americans, “We apologize for the failure to nurture, strengthen, honor, recognize, and appreciate those entrusted to our pastoral care.”

Nick Tilsen, the chief executive of NDN Collective, an Indigenous rights advocacy group, and a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, said the bishops’ apology seemed halfhearted.

“An acknowledgment of this magnitude needs to come with action,” Mr. Tilsen said. “Because without action behind it, it’s literally saying, ‘Sorry, not sorry.’”

He noted that the document mixes acknowledgments of the harm done to Native children with assertions about positive effects some of the schools had, like sheltering children in Alaska who had been orphaned by epidemics.

“If you’re just going to give an apology, just apologize,” Mr. Tilsen said. “How many times have people taught their children; ‘Don’t say sorry and then say, but … ’.”

The pastoral document includes a number of recommendations for the church to come to grips with its past and reconcile with Native Americans, including uncovering and sharing historical records and cooperating with investigations into abuses.

“A sense of trust must first be cultivated before the Church’s desire for reconciliation with the Native American community can be met,” the bishops wrote. “A similar desire for reconciliation on the part of the Native American community is also needed.”

This is not the first time the Catholic Church has acknowledged its role in abuses carried out against Indigenous people in North America. Pope Francis apologized for the church’s role in the Canadian government’s similar treatment of Indigenous peoples during a visit to Canada in 2022.

“I am sorry,” Pope Francis said at the time. “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.”

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