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World News

Justin Welby apologises to Indigenous abuse survivors in Canada

by Donna Birrell

The Archbishop of Canterbury has apologised to survivors of abuse at church-run residential schools in Canada.

Speaking on a visit to a school in Saskatchewan this weekend where he was meeting representatives from Indigenous governments, Most Rev Justin Welby said he was sorry the church had allowed "terrible crime" to occur at residential schools:
"I want to recognize, for myself and my colleagues, the level of pain that you are willing to undergo, so that your story is heard. 

"I will say that I come in ignorance, needing to hear each and every shame, needing to signify that shame, and respect those on whom such terrible injustices were committed."

The stated aim of the schools, which were run between 1831 and 1996, was to assimilate Indigenous children. But, about 150,000 children were taken from their homes, with many being subjected to abuse, rape and malnutrition in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 called 'cultural genocide'.

At this weekend's event, survivors from all over Saskatchewan shared their stories about how the residential school system ripped families apart and left them with traumas as a result of sexual and physical abuse. Many spoke about how they didn't blame the church, but those acting on behalf of the church.

Archbishop Welby told them :

"The grace that you have shown in saying it was not the church that did this, I suppose it is an extraordinary grace. I suppose I want to say that that's perhaps the only thing I question. That it was not the church that did it. But it was the church that permitted it. That allowed it. That turned a blind eye to it. And still does, sometimes. 

"And for that terrible crime, sin, evil of deliberating consciously stupidly, because evil is stupid. Building hell and putting children into it. And staffing it. I am more sorry than I could ever ever begin to express.... I am sorry. I am more sorry than I could say. I'm ashamed. I am horrified."

In a statement released ahead of his visit, the Archbishop had said the purpose of the visit was to "repent and atone for where our relationships and actions have done more harm than good and to honour the sovereignty of Indigenous communities." 

The Anglican Church operated 36 of the residential schools, with the majority being run by the Roman Catholic Church. Four weeks ago the Pope made an apology to Indigenous peoples for the 'deplorable' abuses they suffered in Canada's Catholic-run residential schools. He is due to visit Canada in the Summer.

Survivor Tom Roberts says he is still recovering from his time at the Prince Albert Indian Residential School which was run the Anglican Church. He told CBC News he was glad the Archbishop was "showing some interest," but said an apology was meaningless without action :

"Reconciliation will never start until someone apologizes and then does something about it." 

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