Pope Benedict XVI met with a delegation of Elders, residential school survivors and Aboriginal leaders led by National Chief Phil Fontaine on Wednesday, April 29 in Vatican City, Rome.

The delegation attended an outdoor general audience in St. Peter’s Square where the Pope made an address and then the Fontaine and four AFN delegates, as well as five representatives of the Catholic Church, met with the His Holiness privately for 20 minutes.

Though the Pope never used the word “apology,” the “expression of understanding, acknowledgement and emotion” made by the Pope “closes the circle,” Fontaine stated in a press release.

The Vatican has issued the following statement on its website:

“Given the sufferings that some indigenous children experienced in the Canadian residential school system, the Holy Father expressed his sorrow at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the church and he offered his sympathy and prayerful solidarity. His Holiness emphasized that acts of abuse cannot be tolerated in society. He prayed that all those affected would experience healing, and he encouraged First Nations peoples to continue to move forward with renewed hope.”

According to the CBC, though many Canadian chiefs have applauded the address, more still needs to be done to heal the wounds left by the years of abuse at the hands of the church.

Grand Chief Ron Evans, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, told the CBC, “It’s good to say you’re sorry, but you should be able to restore what you have actually taken away.”

Nearly 75 per cent of the residential schools operated in Canada from the late 1880s through to the 1970s were run by Catholic Church missionaries.