The Jesuits of Canada say they will continue to probe allegations of sexual abuse linked to a priest who once worked in the Mohawk community of Kahnawake, just outside Montreal.
The decision follows Kahnawake’s vote on the weekend in favour of exhuming the remains of Rev. Leon Lajoie, who was assigned to the St. Francis Xavier Mission Church in the community from 1961 to 1996.
The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake shared the results on Saturday, saying 420 people voted. While two votes were invalid, 223 people voted in favour of Lajoie’s exhumation, against 195 people who wanted to keep his remains in the community.
Members of the community came forward last summer with sexual abuse allegations against Lajoie, who died in 1999, demanding that his remains be moved from the territory in order to start a healing process.
However, an investigation conducted by an independent firm between October 2021 and February 2022 could “not currently support any allegation of childhood sexual abuse by Father Leon Lajoie.”
“One of our initial concerns is that we were led to believe there were as many as 20 people in the community that had been allegedly assaulted, or victims of some type of impropriety at the hands of Father Lajoie,” Brian King of the King International Advisory Group explained in a report summary video posted on the Mohawk Council Website.
“We did find a founding of fact that one person was abused – we just can’t support the position that it was Father Lajoie due to a number of things I can’t share,” King explained.
Responding to the community vote to remove Lajoie’s remains, Mohawk Council Chief Tonya Perron said the poll “may have provided resolution for some, whereas for others it has caused great pain.”
“We only hope that the path moving forward paves the way for healing for everyone,” Perron said via council-issued press release.
Longhouse representatives in Kahnawake did not participate in the vote, but in a press release, acknowledged the Lajoie situation as a “triggering issue.”
“The Longhouse feels that the act of relocating Fr. Lajoie’s remains is akin to the condolence custom of removing obstructions from our path forward and a necessary measure for many of our people to begin their healing journey and attain the closure they need,” Longhouse Clan Chiefs said via press release.
“The time has come to fix and strengthen what has been damaged.”
The Jesuits said in a statement Sunday they respect the decision, adding that their next step will be consultations with the community over the transfer of Lajoie’s remains to a Jesuit cemetery in St-Jerome, 65 kilometres northwest of Kahnawake.
They also said that while an independent investigation they ordered into the alleged abuse failed to turn up evidence of abuse, the report didn’t “clear all allegations” against Lajoie.
The Jesuits said two of the complaints investigated were not well-founded and that one, while credible, might have involved mistaken identity.
They said the scope of the ongoing investigation will have to be determined by the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, the community and the parishioners of St. Francis Xavier Mission Church.
With files from The Canadian Press.