Examination of how Oblates have dealt with historic sexual abuse claims met with skepticism, hope

An independent review into how the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate handled historic allegations of sexual abuse by a now-retired priest who lived in the Arctic for three decades is greeted with both hope and skepticism by the Inuit of Nunavut and those who observed his case.

“I’m glad this is sorted,” Steve Mapsalak said from his home in Naujaat, a hamlet in Nunavut. “It’s an ongoing thing and it’s taking too long for me.”

He said Johannes Rivoire sexually assaulted him when he was 13 in Naujaat.

Now 66, Mapsalak said he has long awaited the Catholic Church to take some responsibility – not only for what he said he experienced as a victim of Rivoire, but for what others also crossed. “We’re not just saying we’re victims. It happened,” he said.

Former Quebec Superior Court judge, André Denis, was appointed by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, OMI Lacombe Canada and the Oblates of the Province of France to head the Oblate Safeguard Commission.

A statement released earlier this month called the commission “an independent review of historical allegations of sexual abuse against Johannes Rivoire in present-day Nunavut.”

In the same statement, Denis said, “I appreciate the opportunity to lead this commission and hope that my findings will contribute to a better understanding of this history, while positioning Oblates to set a higher standard of accountability and of security”.

Former Quebec Superior Court Judge André Denis has been appointed to lead an independent review that will examine how the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate have dealt with historical allegations of sexual abuse by Rivoire. (Submitted by André Denis)

An Inuit delegation visited France

Mapsalak and three others filed a complaint against Rivoire with the police in 1998, and he was charged by the Nunavut RCMP, but by then he had returned to France.

A Canadian warrant was issued for Rivoire’s arrest in 1998, but criminal charges related to child sexual abuse were stayed in 2017 by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. He said too much time had passed since the alleged events and they were no longer in the public interest.

In September 2021, Rivoire, who has been in France since 1993, was charged again – this time with one count of indecent assault on a girl in Arviat and Whale Cove between 1974 and 1979. That arrest warrant remains asset. Then, in February 2022, he was charged with sexually assaulting a girl between 1974 and 1979.

A gray-haired, bespectacled woman in a blue and white striped shirt stands next to a dark-haired, mustache-clad man in a gray shirt.
Elizabeth and Steve Mapsalak are shown in Montreal before flying to France in September 2022. The couple traveled with a delegation of Inuit to implore French authorities to grant Canada’s request to extradite Rivoire so that he could face sexual assault charges here. (Juanita Taylor/CBC)

Rivoire, who was ordained in France in 1958 and lives in Lyon, France, has denied any wrongdoing. His first posting as a Catholic priest was in Igloolik, Nunavut from 1960 to 1965, followed by Repulse Bay (now Naujaat) from 1965 to 1974, and Eskimo Point, now Arviat, from 1974 to 1993.

An extradition request has been made to France by the Federal Department of Justice on behalf of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

Although France has an extradition treaty with Canada, it does not generally extradite its citizens to other countries, and Rivoire does not legally have to return to Canada to face charges.

Last September, Mapsalak, accompanied by a delegation of Inuit, traveled to Paris to implore French authorities to grant Canada’s extradition request so that Rivoire can face sexual assault charges here. .

“There are people who are suffering. We are suffering,” Mapsalak said.

His group was also in France to raise awareness in the French media about the allegations against Rivoire in order to help them with their cause. But on October 14, France rejected the extradition request.

WATCH | Inuit delegation confronts retired priest accused of sexual abuse:

Inuit delegation confronts retired priest accused of sexual abuse

WARNING: This story contains distressing details. An Inuit delegation faced retired priest Johannes Rivoire in France. Rivoire is accused of sexual abuse while working in Nunavut from the 1960s.

“Transparency and Accountability”

The Reverend Ken Thorson, chief of the OMI Lacombe province in Ottawa, said Denis’ commission will have full access to files on Rivoire, including allegations made against him in Canada and France.

“We want to better understand how past allegations of abuse have been handled within the community,” he said in an interview with CBC News.

A gray-haired man, wearing glasses and a gray shirt and jacket, stands in front of a crucifix on a wall.
The Reverend Ken Thorson, leader of the OMI Lacombe province in Ottawa, says he has had conversations with Indigenous peoples, church leaders, survivors and their families, as well as Catholics, about the many mistakes that have been made in the history of the church. (Duncan McCue/CBC)

Thorson said Denis was chosen to lead the commission because of his experience presiding over a trial in 2008-2009 involving the federal Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, as well as his work in 2020 examining how the Archdiocese of Montreal and others in Quebec are dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse.

He said the former judge will also identify improvements in Oblate policies and governance that need to be changed to better protect minors.

“We want to ensure a high level of transparency and accountability,” Thorson said.

Retired priest in a retirement home

Lieve Halsberghe, an advocate for people who have been sexually abused by clergy in Belgium, said she does not trust the process.

“Another commission, wow. I mean, they haven’t learned because they keep repeating the same blah, blah, blah. And it’s not new. It’s a very old technique that they use.”

A woman with long brown hair wears an orange shirt.
Lieve Halsberghe, an advocate for people who have been sexually abused by clergy, is shown at Gare de Lyon, France, last September. Instead of an examination, she wants Rivoire to be brought to justice. (Juanita Taylor/CBC)

Halsberghe traveled to France with the Inuit delegation last fall to pressure the government to extradite Rivoire to Canada.

“They have to delay time, we are just waiting for Rivoire to die,” she said of the former priest, who is in his early 90s and currently lives in a private aged care center in France. , according to Thorson.

“Rivoire disappeared in the middle of the night with just a backpack,” Tanya Tungilik said at a press conference in Paris last fall. Her late father, Marius Tungilik, also filed a sexual assault complaint against Rivoire with the RCMP in Nunavut.

Instead of a review, Halsberghe said she wanted Rivoire to be brought to justice. “We will let him defend himself in court, you know, on the same level as all the other citizens. He is also a Canadian citizen.”

Inuit group hopes review will bring peace

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org in Boston, told CBC News that over the past 20 years she has seen an increase in church-commissioned independent reviews.

“The purpose of these criticisms – and I’m going to sound a little cynical here – is to quell public outrage. It’s an acknowledgment by the church that they have received terrible publicity, that there is evidence substantial than [a] cover-up took place and that they allowed the sexual abuse of children,” she said.

A building behind a stone wall.
The Inuit delegation from Canada met with the Oblates at the Provincial House of the Oblates in Lyon during their trip to France last September. (Juanita Taylor/CBC)

Thorson said he understands the skepticism people may have, saying he’s had conversations with Indigenous peoples, church leaders, survivors and their families, as well as Catholics, about the many mistakes that have been made in the history of the church.

“I have truly come to believe that there is no reconciliation without trust, and there is no healing possible. And so I am doing what we are capable of doing right now – understand that not everyone is going to trust us or support us, and yet that’s what we can do now.”

The Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, an organization that represents Inuit in Canada, released a statement saying it “looks forward to engaging with Justice Denis and the Oblates to better understand the decisions that have contributed to the unconscionable situation of ‘a criminal defendant permitted to escape justice.’

The group said it hopes the review will bring some peace to the victims through the assurance that such actions will not be repeated.

WATCH | Review to examine how the church dealt with a priest accused of sexual abuse:

Retired judge to examine church’s handling of priest accused of abusing Inuit children

Three Oblate groups in the Catholic Church say they are launching an independent review into how they handled accusations that former missionary Johannes Rivoire allegedly abused Inuit children. Retired Quebec judge André Denis will conduct the review.

“I’m very hopeful,” said Steve Mapsalak.

Thorson encourages anyone willing and able to contribute to the commission to email former Justice Denis directly at [email protected].

Its final report is expected to be delivered in English, French and Inuktitut by April 1, 2024.

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