French priest accused of sex crimes in Nunavut has died

Johannes Rivoire was wanted in Canada on a charge of sexually assaulting a young girl in Nunavut 40 years ago


Johannes Rivoire on the balcony of his nursing home in Lyon, France in 2022. Photo: APTN file

When Tanya Tungilik learned French priest Johannes Rivoire had died overnight, she screamed.

“My first reaction was anger,” said the daughter of Marius Tungilik, the first Inuk to file a complaint of child sexual abuse against Rivoire. “I was angry that Johannes Rivoire didn’t die in jail like he was supposed to.

“I went for a drive afterwards, stopped by the side of the road, and just screamed my lungs out and cried.”

Rivoire was a missionary Oblate priest for the Catholic Church in Nunavut for 30 years.

He served in three remote communities between 1963 and 1993, where five children alleged he sexually assaulted them.

But Rivoire, who denied the accusations, died in hospital in Lyon, France after a long illness.

He was 93.

An undated photo of Johannes Rivoire in Nunavut where he served as a priest for 30 years. Photo courtesy Lieve Halsberghe

“I just learned that Joannès Rivoire has passed away during last night in a Lyon hospital in France,” retired Quebec Superior Court judge André Denis wrote in an email to Tungilik and other family members and alleged victims.

“I wanted you to be among the first to hear the news (-) even I don’t know any other details.”

Rivoire was facing one count of sexually assaulting a girl in Nunavut 40 years ago when he died.

He had refused to return to Canada to face the charge and the French government declined to extradite him, citing a law that protects French citizens from foreign prosecutions.

Denis recently reviewed the Oblate’s handling of the Rivoire affair for the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate [OMI], which sent priests to Canada’s north mostly from France and Belgium.

Many of its priests worked in the federal government’s residential school system.

But not Rivoire, who served as a priest in three churches, mostly in Arviat and Naujaat.

“We recognize that this news will be difficult for many to receive, especially for the survivors and their families who advocated for him to face justice in Canada,” said Rev. Ken Thorson in a joint statement from OMI Lacombe Canada and the Oblate Province of France.

“We sincerely regret that despite all their efforts, Rivoire never made himself available and will never face the charges that were laid against him. We further regret that efforts for him to be formally removed as a priest were unsuccessful.”

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Joanna Sivasankaran, director of communications for the federal department of Crown-Indigenous Relations, expressed sorrow for those who said they were harmed by Rivoire.

“In the case of Johannes Rivoire, justice was not served,” she said in an email. “Survivors deserve nothing short of justice, accountability, and closure – and we remain relentless in pursuit of that.

“I wish the Survivors and their families peace in their healing journeys.”

Rivoire died a member of the order he served for decades. Oblates swear an oath of poverty in exchange for the church supporting them during and after their service. Rivoire was living in a Catholic nursing home in Lyon.

OMI said it encouraged Rivoire to turn himself in and tried to remove him from the order but officials with the Catholic Church in Rome rejected their attempts.

“We wish to apologize unequivocally to anyone who was harmed by Rivoire, and to offer our continued support in this next chapter of the healing process,” Thorson added in his statement Friday. “Our prayers are with the Inuit community, and anyone who is still processing this news.”

Tanya Tungilik speaks to reporters in Paris, France in September 2022. Photo: APTN file

Members of the Inuit community in Nunavut tried for years to have Rivoire extradited to Canada. They even asked Pope Francis to intervene when the pontiff visited in Canada in July 2022.

Rivoire was in poor health when he met exclusively with APTN in his room in the nursing home in June 2022.

He said he enjoyed his time in what was then the Northwest Territories and did not sexually abuse any Inuit children.

However, Denis said he did not believe him.

The retired judge interviewed Rivoire last summer after being hired by OMI to review the way they handled the case.

Former Quebec Superior Court judge André Denis was hired to lead the Oblate Safeguarding Commission. Photo: Submitted

He determined Rivoire “was guilty of sexually assaulting five minor children in Naujaat between 1968 and 1970, and one minor child in Arviat and Whale Cove between 1974 and 1979” based on a “preponderance of evidence” and not “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

He concluded the church was unaware of the allegations against Rivoire because he didn’t tell them and neither did the RCMP.

However, the report was panned as a public relations exercise.

One of Rivore’s accusers was Tungilik’s father, Marius, who died in 2012.

Tungilik promised her father she would find and confront the priest, which she did as part of an Inuit delegation to France led by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), in September 2022.

However, the relief she felt has now been replaced by anger.

“(Rivoire) could have gone to jail 30 years ago,” she said Friday, “but the RCMP, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, the Canadian and French Oblates, and (Rivoire’s supervisor) Bishop Reynald Rouleau, all failed the survivors and victims. They (allegedly) covered up what they knew and didn’t do anything to help the survivors,” she said in an email to APTN.

“They were all too concerned about their own institution’s reputations instead of the welfare of Inuit. It’s just another example of the systemic racism they had and still have towards Inuit, and their superiority complexes. They still won’t own up to their roles in dropping the ball so many times.”

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Retired judge concludes Catholic priest Rivoire sexually abused children in Nunavut

The RCMP only charged Rivoire in 1998 after he had already left Canada. The Public Prosecution Service of Canada stayed those charges in 2017, citing a low probability of conviction due to France’s refusal to extradite.

“Enough is enough,” Tungilik added Friday, “they all need to be held accountable.

“We have suffered too much for too long. My Dad died without ever getting answers or the justice he deserved. I don’t call my Dad a survivor, he died because of them, they all (allegedly) had a hand (in his death). His blood is on their hands.”

Meanwhile, NTI, a regional advocacy group for Inuit, has called on the federal government to hold a public inquiry into the Rivoire case.

The government has yet to respond to a request for comment on the inquiry from APTN.

“After many years and attempts to bring Rivoire back to Canada to answer to the charges against him, it is disappointing that the (alleged) victims and their families will never receive justice,” NTI director of communications Kevin Kablutsiak said in an emailed statement.

NTI assisted in the efforts of victims and their families seeking justice and will continue to stand with them now that Rivoire has died. Governments must do better to support victims of abuse and in bringing perpetrators of violence against children to justice.”

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