THE VATICAN – Inuit delegates expressed sorrow and strength during a one-hour audience with Pope Francis in his private office at the Vatican on Monday. In particular National Inuit Leader Natan Obed called for specific actions by Pope Francis to advance reconciliation with Inuit In Canada.
The seven delegates, including Obed, expressed their interest in beginning work with Pope Francis in his role as head of the Catholic Church, towards the shared goal of reconciliation for past and ongoing harms and human rights violations caused by the Church, its clergy, and officials affiliated with the Church.
“Lasting reconciliation between Inuit and the Church can only be achieved through substantive actions led and directed by Pope Francis, and that provide redress for past harms and crimes committed by the Church and its representatives, as well as actions that create opportunities for healing among individuals, families and communities harmed by the Church,” Obed told the Pontiff during the encounter, which included participation from a number of Inuit individuals chosen by bishops in the Arctic to contribute personal and community-based calls for change.
Inuit, as with other Indigenous peoples, continue to struggle against the forces of colonialism and colonization that have eroded our language and culture, dispossessed us of parts of our spirituality and traditional territory, and caused significant social and economic challenges within our communities.
Here is an excerpt from President Obed’s remarks
“Harm has been inflicted in by residential schools administered by the Catholic Church including through cultural oppression, physical and sexual abuse, and the erosion of our language, spirituality and culture.
“The Church has continued to harm Inuit by refusing to act in good faith in fulfilling its obligations under the 2006 Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, which obligates the Church to undertake specific actions to advance reconciliation between Inuit and other indigenous peoples and the Church.
“Harm has also been inflicted by sexual predators within the Church who used their power and positions of influence within Inuit communities to prey upon and sexually abuse Inuit children and youth. The Church needs to do more to bring perpetrators of sexual violence to justice”.
Inuit humbly request that Pope Francis undertake the following actions:
- As per Call to Action 58 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, deliver an apology in Canada to Inuit survivors of residential schools administered by the Catholic Church, including the Turquetil Hall residential school in Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut, and Grollier Hall in Inuvik, Northwest Territories.
- Direct the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to fulfill both the spirit and letter of the Church’s legal obligations under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
- This includes immediate payment of $25 million in financial restitution to survivors of residential school.
- It also means to providing complete and immediate access to relevant documents in the Church’s possession that are necessary to identify Inuit children who may have died while at residential schools administered by the Church, and who need to be posthumously reunited with their families and communities.
- The Church must commit to working with police, governments and Inuit to bring about justice for survivors of abuse and their families. Johannes Rivoire, an Oblate who sexually abused Inuit children in several Inuit communities, should be brought to justice.
- In particular, I would ask you in your capacity as the head of the Catholic Church, to speak with Johannes Rivoire and direct him to return to Canada to stand trial for the harms he has done.
- I understand that this action may not be successful, for many reasons. In that event, I would ask you to use your influence with the relevant authorities in France to have Rivoire extradited to Canada or tried in France.
“I call on you as both the head of the Catholic Church and the head of state of one of strongest seats of power in the world, to do what is right, what is just, what is needed, and what is entirely within your power as Pontiff.”