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Priest facing sexual assault charge in Nunavut will not be dismissed from Oblates

Accused priest still oblate

A French priest accused of sexually abusing Inuit children in Nunavut will be allowed to remain a member of the Oblates congregation after leadership in Rome ruled against his dismissal.

Johannes Rivoire, who is in his mid-90s and lives in Lyon, France, has long faced allegations he sexually abused Inuit children during his time in Nunavut.

“I was deeply disappointed,” said Rev. Ken Thorson with OMI Lacombe Canada.

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, OMI Lacombe Canada and the Oblates of the Province of France had appealed to leadership in Rome in 2022 to commence the dismissal proceedings against Rivoire after the Catholic priest refused to return to Canada to face charges.

An arrest warrant was issued for Rivoire earlier that year for indecent assault involving a girl in Arviat and Whale Cove, Nvt., between 1974 and 1979. French authorities later denied an extradition request from Canadian judicial authorities.

The priest previously avoided trial when he refused to return to Canada after a warrant was issued for his arrest in 1998. He faced at least three charges of sexual abuse in the Nunavut communities of Arviat, Rankin Inlet and Naujaat. More than two decades later, the charges were stayed.

The Public Prosecution Service of Canada said at the time it was partly due to France’s reluctance to extradite.

Rivoire has denied all allegations against him and none have been proven in court.

Inuit leaders and politicians have continued to urge that the priest face trial. Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said he asked Pope Francis to speak directly with Rivoire during an Indigenous delegation to the Vatican in 2022.

A 10-member delegation led by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., a group representing Nunavut Inuit, travelled to France later that year and spoke with Rivoire himself, asking the priest to return to Canada. That group has claimed up to 60 children may have been abused.

Last year, nearly a dozen members of BeBrave France, the French chapter of a global advocacy movement that aims to end sexual violence against children, demonstrated outside the retirement home where Rivoire was living. He has since been relocated into the Oblates' administration house in Lyon because of the attention he was getting at the previous facility, Thorson said.

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate said it has also repeatedly urged Rivoire to face the charges, but he has refused.

Thorson said the disciplinary proceedings included two warnings and a formal recommendation. Rivoire’s counsel cited his declining health, such as medical advice against more than one hour of air travel, as a reason he couldn’t return, Thorson said.

Considering Rivoire’s health, the Oblate administration in Rome did not proceed with dismissal from the congregation, Thorson said.

The dismissal would not have forced Rivoire to return to Canada but Thorson said it would have been symbolic of the church’s commitment to accountability and reconciliation.

“I recognize we missed opportunities to take what could have been healing steps in this case,” Thorson said.

“That’s a regret that I carry.”

Thorson said he hopes that an independent investigation into the allegations against Rivoire and the Oblates' handling of the situation can still provide some justice.

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, OMI Lacombe Canada and the Oblates of the Province of France appointed former Superior Court justice André Denis to lead the Oblate Safeguarding Commission.

The commission is to understand how allegations against Rivoire were addressed within the Catholic congregation and to identify improvements to Oblate policies and governance to better protect minors and ensure accountability.

It will also review the circumstances under which Rivoire left Canada.

A final written report is to be made public no later than April 1.

 



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