Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Pope Francis discuss residential schools, Ukrainian unrest.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Pope Francis discuss residential schools, Ukrainian unrest.

June 29, 2015

VATICAN CITY – Religious freedom, the conflict in Ukraine and the environment were on the table as Pope Francis met briefly June 11 with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The prime minister's office said their discussions also included reference to the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which detailed the treatment of Aboriginal children in residential schools supported by the Canadian government but administered by religious organizations, including the Catholic Church.


The commission described what happened to the children and their communities as "cultural genocide."

The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations asked Harper to raise the issue with Pope Francis and to ask the pope to publicly apologize for the Catholic Church's role in the schools, in the treatment of the children there and in its impact on Aboriginal cultures.

A Vatican statement about the meeting did not mention the schools which separated 150,000 native children from their families.

On other topics, "Prime Minister Harper was pleased to invite Pope Francis to Canada to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary of Confederation" in 2017, his office said.

The prime minister was on a trip that included visits to Ukraine, Poland and Germany for the summit of the leaders of the world's most industrialized countries.

Harper spent only about 10 minutes speaking privately with Pope Francis in the presence of interpreters. But after Harper introduced members of his entourage and posed for photographs with the pope, the two continued talking.

The defence and promotion of religious freedom, tensions in Europe and the Middle East, the fight against terrorism and environmental issues were discussed, the Vatican said.

According to the prime minister's office, "Prime Minister Harper addressed the situation in Ukraine and his deep concern with Vladimir Putin's aggression, occupation and violence in Ukraine," his office said.