La Croix International [France]
July 29, 2022
By Léna Ménager
A former Catholic missionary in Canada who returned to his native France in 1993 is accused of sexually abusing Indigenous children, who now want him extradited
“The Catholic Church must work to punish priests and religious who have committed horrible acts against children. Several are known and still alive. But they are not worried. This is the situation for Joannès Rivoire, who is a famous case.”
So says Cassidy Caron, president of the Métis National Council in Canada.
She is not the only one hoping that Pope Francis’ visit to Canada’s Aboriginal peoples will advance the judicial process against Father Rivoire.
A missionary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the priest arrived in Canada in 1960 to minister to the Inuit of Nunavut, the largest and most northerly territory in the vast country.
Thirty-three years later, in 1993, he abruptly returned to France.
“My parents were suffering, they needed me,” he explained a few weeks ago to the French daily Le Monde.
Five complaints of sexual assault on minors have been filed against Rivoire in Canada since 1998.
Despite a first arrest warrant issued that year, and then a second one last March, the French priest who is now in his nineties and living in a nursing home in Lyon, has no intention of turning himself in to Canadian justice.
“I am not aware of having done anything serious,” he said in an interview published last Monday by the Aboriginal media APTN News.
“If people don’t believe me, I don’t see what I can do,” he said.
Vincent Gruber, the OMI provincial superior in France, told Le Monde that Father Rivoire had committed “inexcusable failures”.
Inuit representatives who went to the Vatican last March asked Pope Francis to pressure the French priest to go to Canada to face justice.
“I ask you, as the head of the Catholic Church, to speak to Joannès Rivoire and order him to return to Canada to be judged for the wrongs he has caused,” pleaded Natan Obed, a member of the delegation.
“The Vatican can do nothing”
“We have always said that it is important that this priest be brought to justice,” said Neil MacCarthy, director of communications for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB):
“The Church is doing everything to encourage (Rivoire) to face justice and return to Canada. And we hope that the (Canadian) government can do the same,” the CCCB official told La Croix on Tuesday.
A Vatican source said Rivoire’s case is above all a “legal question” that “must be resolved by the Canadian and French judges”.
“Strictly speaking, it is not an ecclesial case. The Vatican can do nothing,” the source explained.
France’s minister of justice urged to intervene
Sister Véronique Margron, president of the Conference of Men and Women Religious of France (CORREF), said the attitude of Father Rivoire’s congregation is not in question.
“The Oblates of Mary Immaculate are very committed to the issue so that justice is done,” she told La Croix.
“But you can’t force someone to take a plane. That is the limit of religious power, which is a power of persuasion,” she said.
François Devaux, a leading advocate in France for sex abuse victims, said his country’s unwillingness to intervene in the Rivoire case “begins to raise questions”.
French MP Aurélien Taché sent a letter this past Monday to justice minister , Éric Dupond-Moretti, urging him to “respond to the arrest warrant issued by the Canadian justice system”.
A delegation of Inuits has planned to go to Lyon on September 12 to ask France to extradite the priest to Canada, Devaux told La Croix.
But a request for extradition cannot be granted.
According to a 1927 law still in force “extradition is not granted when the person in question is a French national”, as is the case with Father Rivoire.
“Acknowledging the harm done”
One possibility for the Inuit would be to file a complaint against the priest before the French justice system.
Under article 113-6 of the French penal code he can be charged with “offenses committed by French citizens outside the territory of the Republic if the acts are punishable by the legislation of the country where they were committed”.
But it is likely that the abuse, which took place many years ago, is beyond the statutes of limitation.
According to Sister Margron, president of CORREF, this does not prevent “recognizing the evil committed”.
“It is a necessity of justice. Where a state can no longer do justice, it is still possible to ‘do justice’,” she said.
(Additional reporting from Loup Besmond de Senneville.)