Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called on the Catholic Church to “take responsibility” for its role in Aboriginal boarding schools.
The remains of 215 children were found buried in one school last month, sparking nationwide outrage.
Trudeau said the church’s requests to publish its school records were met with “resistance”.
Government-run boarding schools were established for the forced integration of indigenous children.
This was part of the official policy, which aimed to destroy indigenous cultures and languages.
The children whose bodies were found in May were students at Kamloops Indigenous School in British Columbia. The school closed in 1978.
The mass grave was discovered during an ongoing investigation by an Aboriginal Society in Western Canada into the deaths of boarding school students.
Some children were as young as three years old.
“As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed with the position the Catholic Church has taken now and over the past several years,” Trudeau told reporters.
Trudeau described his visit to the Vatican in May 2017 and his request for an official apology from Pope Francis for mistreating the students.
He said he also requested access to church records to help determine the fate of more than 4,100 students believed to have died of disease or malnutrition, adding that they “still see resistance from the church.”
Asked if the government was considering legal action to access the records, Trudeau said, “I think if necessary, we will take stronger action.”
But he added: “Before we begin to prosecute the Catholic Church, I very much hope that religious leaders understand that this is something they need to be involved in.”
The school where the mass grave was found was opened under Roman Catholic administration in 890 and had up to 500 pupils when enrollment peaked in the 1950s.
Many of the children were sent to live in school hundreds of miles from their families.
The school was taken over by the central government in 1969. Between then and 1978, it was used as a residence for students attending local day schools.
Trudeau called on Catholic Canadians to “communicate.” [مع أبرشياتهم المحلية], the bishops and cardinals, and to make it clear that we expect the church to take responsibility for its role in this matter and to lend a helping hand to heal the wounds and to provide the necessary documents.”
“It’s something that a number of other churches have done,” Trudeau said. “It’s something we’re still waiting for the Catholic Church to do.”
“We need the truth before we can talk about justice, healing and reconciliation,” he added.