Canada’s Inuit seek Pope’s help to remove accused priest from France

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) – Canada’s Inuit will pressure Pope Francis to help sack a retired Catholic priest accused of sexual abuse to face charges in Canada, a former political leader said from the north of the country.

Francis plans to travel to Canada July 24-29 to apologize for the abuse of Indigenous children in government schools largely run by the Catholic Church.

Retired priest Johannes Rivoire, 93, is accused of sexual assault related to his work in northern parishes for the Catholic congregation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The charge against Rivoire, who lives in Lyon, France, was brought by Canadian police in February.

A woman alleged that Rivoire sexually assaulted her between 1974 and 1979, when she was a young girl. Neither the accusation nor any allegation against Rivoire has been proven in court.

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Rivoire, who has French and Canadian citizenship, did not respond to a request for comment made by Reuters through the Oblates of France.

The woman who alleged the assault, now a grandmother, has said to this day that she doesn’t like Sundays, where her abuse often takes place. She keeps her hair short, remembering her attacker pulling the long hair she had when she was little, to silence her.

“I hope (Francis) can help,” the woman told Reuters. “We are Inuit, we have feelings too. We are hurt from the inside out.”

The identity of victims of sexual assault is protected by Canadian courts.

Inuit have long alleged that Rivoire sexually abused children while working in northern Canada from the 1960s to 1993.

Police brought three sex-related charges against Rivoire in 1998, but by then he had left for France. Canada’s Department of Justice dropped those charges in 2017, concluding there was little chance of a conviction given his departure.

Father Vincent Gruber, who leads the Oblates in France, said the group had asked Rivoire over the years to handle the charges against him but he refused.

Piita Irniq, 75, a former Nunavut politician, said he will use his scheduled five minutes with the pope in Iqaluit next Friday to raise Rivoire’s case.

Irniq’s childhood friend Marius Tungilik said he was sexually abused by clergy, including Rivoire, when he was a boy in what is now Naujaat, Nunavut.

The trauma caused Tungilik to drink heavily, leading to his death in 2012, Irniq said.

“He used alcohol to try to heal from what happened.”

The extradition treaty between Canada and France stipulates that no country is required to extradite its own nationals. A spokesman for Canada’s Department of Justice declined to say whether Canada had asked France to extradite Rivoire.

The French Foreign Ministry and Justice Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

“We urge Johannes Rivoire to do what he should have done long ago, to cooperate with the police and to make himself available for the legal process,” said Father Ken Thorson, head of OMI Lacombe, one of the groups of Oblates in Canada.

A Vatican spokesman said he needed more information on Rivoire.

(Additional reporting by Steve Scherer in Ottawa, Mathieu Rosemain in Paris and Philip Pullella in Rome; Editing by David Gregorio)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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