Residential school priest in Manitoba pleads not guilty to historical sex charge

Fr. Arthur Massé worked at the Fort Alexander Residential School northeast of Winnipeg.

Warning: This story may be upsetting to some readers. Contact the national Indian Residential School Crisis Line for emotional and crisis support at 1-866-925-4419. 

A former residential school priest entered a plea of not guilty to a historical sexual abuse charge in a rural Manitoba courtroom Wednesday. 

Fr. Arthur Massé, 92, is facing one count of indecent assault on a young girl at the Fort Alexander Residential School.

Massé was not in court when his lawyer, George Green, called in to the Pine Falls/Powerview court from Winnipeg and entered the plea on his behalf. 

A woman who identified herself as the 10-year-old victim told reporters outside court about what she says happened to her more than 50 years ago.  

“I’ve seen enough; I’ve suffered enough in this place,” she said. “And to come out of something like that, I’m going to be a voice.”

An undated photo of Catholic Oblate Arthur Massé. Photo courtesy St. Boniface Archives

Massé was arrested in June after a decade-long investigation into allegations from survivors.

The RCMP said they collected more than 75 witness and victim statements, and spoke with more than 700 people across the country.  

The school was located on Sagkeeng First Nation (formerly the Fort Alexander Reserve), approximately 129 km northeast of Winnipeg. It was operated for the federal government by the Roman Catholic Church from Sept. 1, 1905 to June 30, 1970. 

 Marilyn Courchene of Sagkeeng First Nation is among those who offered statements to the RCMP, and says it’s not the first time she identified Massé as her alleged abuser.

 She said she hopes to see him appear in person at his next court date.

Fr. Ken Thorson speaks for OMI Canada, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Photo: APTN file

The RCMP have said many alleged victims were not able to participate in the investigation due to illness or because they have died.

 APTN News asked the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), who staffed the school with Catholic missionaries, how many complaints it had on record for Massé. 

Spokesperson Fr. Ken Thorson did not answer the question. 

“We take the charges against Arthur Masse extremely seriously and will fully cooperate with the legal process,” he said in an emailed statement. “Given that this matter is before the court, it would be inappropriate to comment more specifically.” 

 Additionally, Thorson offered an apology on behalf of OMI Canada for the abuses that occurred in residential schools. 

Court hearing 

Massé’s next court hearing is set for Sept. 14 in Winnipeg where he is scheduled to go before a judge without a preliminary hearing.  

The accuser said the legal process has been difficult but she is finding strength in her community.

“I just talked to one of my relatives here, we mentioned this is for our mothers, too, and when they couldn’t talk and could only cry,” she said.

“Mr. Massé, come out and speak your truth as well. And I’ll speak mine.”

Courchene was disappointed the priest rejected the request to do a sentencing circle, which is a traditional form of restorative justice to help heal the victim, offender and community. 

“He’s not being accountable to this community,” Courchene said, “and yet he’s been here 40-plus years with our children and our families.”

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