As Indigenous and Catholic leaders prepare for a possible fall meeting with the Pope, an Archbishop says reconciliation conversations continue to be a priority.

Archbishop Richard Gagnon of the Winnipeg Diocese and President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops says that a long-anticipated trip to the Vatican could come to fruition this fall.

"This is a delegation of Elders, Residential School Survivors, youths, and some leaders who will go there accompanying them. It is not a political reality, it is a pastoral reality, in which these individuals from the various Indigenous components in Canada would have the opportunity to sit down with the Pope separately," Gagnon says.

First Nation, Inuit, and Metis representatives will meet within their three groups separately with the Pope, later coming together to meet as a large group, to talk about the relationship between their communities and the Catholic Church.

"It gives the Pope a chance to listen to them and to express his reaction to what they are saying and to have a dialogue with them."

When they return, there will be a follow-up of what was discussed and what comes from it.

"It is a difficult thing and it is also a blessing in that too, that it also provides space for God to work and to bring reconciliation. Reconciliation requires truth; it requires justice."

He says reconciliation starts with two sides, working together for that truth and justice.

This trip was initially planned for an earlier date, but pandemic restrictions put it on pause. Gagnon says for the past four years they have been working with Indigenous leaders and Residential School Survivors towards reconciliation. 

"I think it is not just for Catholics, it is for all of us. I think we have to work towards better relations and deeper relations. It has been a painful past, it has come to light in a strong way now, and that is tough."

He says in the fall, the meeting between the Pope and First Nation, Inuit, and Metis representatives will have a fruitful dialogue about the schools.

Apologies, documents

Gagnon says in 2009, the Pope at the time expressed sorrow and regret during a delegation with him and representatives of First Nation communities. Gagnon could not speculate as to what the Pope might say in the upcoming trip but is noting there have been calls for an apology for residential schools.

"The idea of the Pope not apologizing or asking for forgiveness or expressing sorrow or regret, that to me doesn't make any sense," Gagnon says. "I think it is misinformation that the Pope will not apologize and that is not true."

The Archbishop says there is not a single governing body for the Catholic Church in Canada. Rather, he says, each diocese is responsible for the congregations in their region.

"The Church is not one giant entity with the Pope on top. It is a collection of churches. And all the ones that have been directly and indirectly concerned with residential schools, all of these apologies have been given since 1991. So this has all been done in Canada."

He says the files that they have in relation to residential schools were turned over "years ago" to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"There is lots of talk in Canada of the Catholic Church withholding files and those sort of thing. That is misinformation, completely."

The Archbishop says some religious orders may have records the National Centre of Truth and Reconciliation wants, but they would have to speak with them directly.

Raymond Frogner, Lead Archivist for the National Centre of Truth and Reconciliation says in a previous interview in early June "not every religious order's archives sent everything that they were supposed to have sent to use."

Some other Christian denominations, such as Anglican and Mennonite, also participated in residential schools. 

Part of Frogner's concern also comes from records having incomplete data, including lacking documentation on the cause of death for some children.