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Pope Francis and Gov. Gen. Mary Simon arrive at the Citadelle during his papal visit across Canada in Quebec City on Wednesday, July 27, 2022.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

The Vatican is not planning to conduct a formal investigation into the abuses at Catholic-run residential schools that operated across Canada for a century, but will examine any new evidence that emerges.

That was the message delivered Wednesday – the fourth day of the Pope’s six-day Canadian tour – by several senior Vatican officials who talked to The Globe and Mail.

The officials said they wanted to clear up a “lost in translation” moment that gave some the impression that Pope Francis wanted the Vatican to launch its own investigation into the residential-school system.

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The Globe is not identifying the officials because they are not authorized to speak publicly.

On Monday, in Maskwacis, Alta., south of Edmonton, Pope Francis apologized to Indigenous peoples for abuses at the schools, where tens of thousands of Indigenous children were deprived of their language, their culture and their spiritual traditions, and where beatings and sexual abuse were widespread. He said that the “overall effects of the policies linked to the residential schools were catastrophic.”

Francis was speaking in his native Spanish and his speech was translated into English, among other languages. The Spanish text of the Pope’s speech says an important part of this process “es hacer una seria busqueda de la verdad acerca del pasado,” which the Vatican translated into English as “will be to conduct a serious investigation into the facts of what took place in the past” – referring to the schools.

Pope Francis apologized and asked for forgiveness on his "penitential pilgrimage" for the abuses suffered by Indigenous people at residential schools in Canada. Watch the full statement the Pope made in Maskwacis, Alta. on Monday.

The Globe and Mail

The Vatican officials said the English text was misleading and that “busqueda” is better translated as “search,” not “investigation.” One of the Vatican officials said the Pope wanted to deliver the message that “the story of the abuses is not over” as far as the Vatican is concerned, and that more evidence of the abuses could emerge, perhaps when more church documents are brought to light – a potentially long process. He added that “we are not closing the door on the abuses and strutting off just because Francis delivered an intense apology. We are just not going to go with a scientific or technical investigation.”

Where the Pope will be on visit to Canada

Iqaluit

0

150

KM

NWT

NUN.

Hudson

Bay

ALTA.

MAN.

SASK.

Lac Ste. Anne

NFLD.

Edmonton

QUE.

Maskwacis

ONT.

Winnipeg

Quebec City

UNITED STATES

Montreal

Toronto

Sun., July 24: Depart Rome; arrive Edmonton

Mon., July 25: Edmonton; Maskwacis

Tues., July 26: Edmonton; Lac Ste. Anne

Wed., July 27: Depart Edmonton; arrive Quebec City

Thurs., July 28: Quebec City

Fri., July 29: Depart Quebec City; arrive Iqaluit; Rome

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP

CONTRIBUTORS; Bulletin of the Holy See Press Office

Where the Pope will be on visit to Canada

Iqaluit

0

150

KM

NWT

NUN.

Hudson

Bay

ALTA.

MAN.

SASK.

Lac Ste. Anne

NFLD.

Edmonton

QUE.

Maskwacis

ONT.

Winnipeg

Quebec City

UNITED STATES

Montreal

Toronto

Sun., July 24: Depart Rome; arrive Edmonton

Mon., July 25: Edmonton; Maskwacis

Tues., July 26: Edmonton; Lac Ste. Anne

Wed., July 27: Depart Edmonton; arrive Quebec City

Thurs., July 28: Quebec City

Fri., July 29: Depart Quebec City; arrive Iqaluit; Rome

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP

CONTRIBUTORS; Bulletin of the Holy See Press Office

Where the Pope will be on visit to Canada

Sun., July 24: Depart Rome; arrive Edmonton

Iqaluit

Mon., July 25: Edmonton; Maskwacis

Tues., July 26: Edmonton; Lac Ste. Anne

Wed., July 27: Depart Edmonton; arrive Quebec City

Thurs., July 28: Quebec City

Fri., July 29: Depart Quebec City; arrive Iqaluit; Rome

Hudson

Bay

ALTA.

SASK.

MAN.

Lac Ste. Anne

NFLD.

Edmonton

QUE.

Maskwacis

ONT.

Winnipeg

CANADA

UNITED STATES

Quebec City

PEI

N.B.

Ottawa

Montreal

N.S.

Toronto

0

150

KM

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; Bulletin of the Holy See

Press Office

The English translation of the speech gave the impression to some that the Vatican was, in effect, calling for its own version of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which did its work between 2008 and 2015 and interviewed some 7,000 residential-school survivors and other witnesses and victims to the harms they unleashed. It was the TRC that called for the Pope to apologize for the abuses, which Francis did in April, when First Nations, Métis and Inuit representatives visited Rome, and again on Monday in Maskwacis.

But the Vatican officials said that Francis was not actually calling for a formal investigation into the abuses. They said the official English translation of his speech gave the wrong impression.

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Tanya Talaga: Pope Francis’s apology was heartfelt and historic. But it left us wanting more

The Globe and Mail had sought clarification on the pontiff’s comments on Tuesday. The Holy See press office didn’t respond to questions, including whether this is referring to a new effort or part of the process already under way. The Edmonton office of Archbishop Richard Smith, who is co-ordinating the papal visit, said he is unable to answer any media questions as he is embedded with the Pope for the duration of the trip.

Survivors and Indigenous leaders, who heard the English version of the apology, had different interpretations of the word “investigation” and shared what they would like to see. These include providing further archival records – which some Catholic entities have previously refused to share – offering supports in the search for missing children and a criminal investigation of perpetrators of abuse at the schools.

  • Pope Francis greets faithfuls outside Sacred Heart Church in Edmonton on July 25, 2022.GUGLIELMO MANGIAPANE/Reuters

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Regardless of what officials say about interpretation of the Pope’s speech, the church needs to be more forthcoming about the truth, and further investigations are needed, said Donald Worme, a Cree lawyer from the Kawacatoose First Nation and former lead counsel for the TRC.

The TRC “was absolutely clear in saying what it is that needed to be investigated. What needed to be investigated is the missing children, and the unmarked graves that are found in countless communities across the country. What needs to be investigated is the root of those and where are the records that have been compiled? We know that the Catholic Church and the church entities that operated these residential schools kept meticulous records – they needed to in order to get paid, those records still exist” but some have been moved, lost or not yet shared.

A search for the truth, he added, “will necessarily uncover the kinds of horrific actions that have been committed against countless Indigenous communities, particularly against literally tens of thousands of children, if not hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children ... generations of Indigenous children have suffered at the hands of these policies.”

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