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The Oblates of Mary Immaculate say aging priest Joannes Rivoire should turn himself in and face his accusers in Canada.
The Catholic order made the comments in a written statement sent to news media before Pope Francis arrived in Iqaluit Friday.
The Pope apologized to Indigenous Peoples in Canada this week for the role some members of the Catholic church played in the abuses that occurred at residential schools.
The pontiff was also asked to intervene in the Rivoire case, along with the Oblates.
“Clergy sexual abuse is a tragedy, and we are deeply sorry to any survivors who have been harmed by Oblates or other Catholic priests or religious (personnel),” the Oblates said in their statement.
“The Oblates proactively reached out to Minister of Justice and Attorney General, David Lametti, on March 22 expressing our availability to cooperate in a legal investigation and remain committed to doing so.”
Rivoire, now 91, denies he sexually abused some Inuit children while serving as a church priest in three remote Arctic communities between 1963 and 1993.
He is charged with one count of indecent assault from an alleged incident of 47 years ago.
Rivoire is living in a retirement home in Lyon, France, where he met with APTN News for an interview in June 2022. He said the Oblates are paying for his care.
Also Rivoire said he would not return to Canada.
“What can they do? Prevent them from practising as a priest, that’s all they can do,” Rivoire said.
Rev. Ken Thorson, who speaks for OMI Lacombe in Canada, agreed Rivoire would no longer practice as a priest.
“As the new charge against Johannes Rivoire is a credible allegation of abuse … no Oblate who has been credibly accused will ever be engaged in active ministry, including Rivoire,” Thorson told APTN in a separate email.
Under church or Canon Law, Thorson said an investigation “may be opened by Rivoire’s provincial superior in Lyon.”
But “the Canadian justice system’s investigation and proceedings”, which include a request that France extradite Rivoire to Canada, would “run their course” first, he added.
The Oblates have said Rivoire is under “house arrest” at the retirement home.
However, the investigation and proceedings are in legal limbo because France won’t extradite its citizens and the statute of limitations has expired on trying Rivoire on a Canadian sex charge in France.
Massimo Faggioli, an expert on the history and inner workings of the church and papacy, said the Vatican has a history of not interfering in state affairs.
“In this particular case, if the alleged person is not tried by state secular court, the church has (limited powers),” said the professor at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.
Faggioli said some cases are tried in the Vatican Courts but he was unsure if Rivoire would find himself there.
“That happens; there are cases that end up at the Vatican. It’s possible.”
The academic noted the Oblates’ missionary work is an important part of the church.
He said most allegations of abuse are made against Oblate priests in the West.
“The countries with the most (cases) are Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Oblates said they stand with the Inuit in their fight for justice.
“We continue to advocate amongst peers and superiors in the church to ensure leadership in France and the Vatican understand the (alleged) impact that Rivoire continues to have on Canada’s Inuit Peoples,” the Oblates’ statement said.
“While we cannot undo the harms that persist following sexual abuse, we hope that these efforts can help the Inuit Peoples find the healing they have long sought.”