Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appealed Friday to Canadian Catholics to demand the Catholic Church apologize for its role in Indian Residential Schools and make school records public.
Trudeau urged the action after the discovery last week of 215 children's bodies in unmarked graves in the former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. The church ran the school from 1890 to 1969, one of 139 such schools in Canada.
This is not the first time Trudeau has called on the church and Pope Francis to apologize and the church has also rejected requests to make historical residential school records public. The church ran about 70 per cent of the schools.
"As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed by the decision that the Catholic Church has taken now and over the past many years," Trudeau said at a press conference, Friday. "We are still seeing resistance from the church.
"I think it's going to be a really important moment for all of us, particularly Catholics across the country, to reach out in our local parishes, to reach out to bishops, cardinals, and make it clear we expect the church to step up and take responsibility for its role in this."
According to Statistics Canada, there were about 12.8 million Catholics in Canada (latest figures 2011).
Trudeau said if the apology and making records public does not occur, he might have to take "stronger measures," and as a last resort that would include going to court.
"Before we have to start taking the Catholic Church to court, I am very hopeful that religious leaders will understand that this is something they need to participate in," he said.
There were about 150,000 Indigenous children taken from families and forced into the schools beginning in the 1820s. A significant number suffered physical, psychological and sexual abuse. It is estimated at least 4,000 died, and many lie in unmarked graves.
But the Canadian government's hands are not completely clean when it comes to records from the residential schools. Between 1936 and 1944, it is estimated the government destroyed about 15 tons of documents related to the schools, including about 200,000 Indian Affairs files, CTV News reported.
Other churches have apologized for running some of the schools, including the United Church, the Presbyterian Church and the Anglican Church.