Inuit group hopes review into handling of priest allegations brings change

IQALUIT, Nunavut — A national group representing Inuit says it hopes a review into how the Oblates handled allegations of a former priest sexually abusing children in Nunavut will bring change within the Catholic Church.

A retired Quebec judge has been tasked with leading the review into how the Oblates handled the abuse allegations against Johannes Rivoire.

“We look forward to engaging with Justice Andre Denis and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to achieve a greater understanding of the decisions that contributed to the unconscionable situation of an accused criminal being allowed to evade justice,” Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami said in a statement.

“We hope that Justice Denis’ independent review will help to bring about necessary governance change within the Oblates and the Catholic Church more broadly as well as bring a small measure of peace to victims through an assurance that such decisions are not repeated.”

The group added that it continues to call for action to ensure Rivoire answers to the allegations against him. Its president, Natan Obed, has appealed to Pope Francis for a resolution.

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, OMI Lacombe Canada and the Oblates of the Province of France announced last week that Denis, formerly with the Quebec Superior Court, is leading the Oblate Safeguarding Commission.

They said it will aim to understand how past allegations against Rivoire were addressed within the Catholic congregation, including the circumstances under which he left Canada, and identify improvements to Oblate policies and governance to better protect minors and ensure accountability.

Rivoire, who is now in his early 90s and lives in a retirement home in Lyon, France, has long faced accusations that he sexually abused Inuit children while he was a priest in Nunavut. He has not faced those claims in court and denies any wrongdoing.

Rivoire worked and lived in the territory from the 1960s until 1993, when he returned to his home country. Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. has claimed he may have abused up to 60 children during that time.

A Canadian warrant was issued for Rivoire’s arrest in 1998 but criminal charges related to the sexual abuse of children were stayed in 2017.

Following a new complaint in 2021, Rivoire was charged with one count of indecent assault of a girl in Arviat and Whale Cove between 1974 and 1979.

A 10-member delegation of Nunavut Inuit travelled to France in September to seek his extradition and raise awareness of the case. They met with government and church officials as well as Rivoire.

The Public Prosecution of Canada announced in October that France had denied its extradition request and said it had exhausted all legal means to do so.

Rev. Ken Thorson with OMI Lacombe Canada said the Oblates have repeatedly urged Rivoire to return to Canada and face the charges. Oblate leadership in France said they decided to dismiss Rivoire because of his refusal to return to Canada.

Steve Mapasalak, who alleges he was sexually abused by Rivoire when he was 13, was among those who travelled to France. He said he is still hoping Rivoire will be brought back to Canada to face the allegations.

“It lifted me,” he said of facing Rivoire in France. “Hopefully justice is done … it’s never going to be the same in our life but at least we will feel inside that something has been done.”

Lori Idlout, the NDP member of Parliament for Nunavut, said she’s thankful the commission has been established.

“This is an important acknowledgment that there needs to be an opportunity for victims to be heard and for their stories to be shared, and to make sure that this is moving towards healing,” she said.

She said she hopes Rivoire’s accusers will be given the mental health supports they need during the process and that the commission’s final report will result in changes to church policy that ensure children are protected from violence.

OMI Lacombe Canada said all relevant personnel records and archival material will be made available to Denis. It said a final report is to be made public no later than April 1, 2024.

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