Remains of Jesuit Priest Removed from Kahnawake Church Grounds

iHeart Radio [San Antonio TX]

August 10, 2022

The remains of a priest who allegedly sexually abused Indigenous children in Quebec was exhumed Wednesday morning.

“We never agreed to have him buried here in the first place,” said community member Kahnekaken:re Lahache. “We have our native women who were not allowed to be buried here because they married out, but they let the priest be buried here. They actually begged for him to be buried here, which wasn’t right.”

Jesuit priest Father Leon Lajoie was buried on the grounds of the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Kahnawake in 1999.

After allegations of sexual assault surfaced last year, the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) community on Montreal’s South Shore was invited to vote on what to do with his remains.

It was an issue that divided many community members and exhumation “was an idea proposed by community members, alleged victims and supporters,” according to Tonya Perron, one of the Mohawk Council’s elected chiefs.

His remains will be moved to a Jesuit cemetery in Saint-Jérôme, Que.

In response to the allegations, the Jesuits of Canada stated: “We found no correspondence that contained complaints of boundary violations or abuse during his long career as a Jesuit priest. We treat all allegations of sexual or other abuse with the utmost seriousness and concern.”

The group hired independent firm King International Advisory Group to investigate the allegations.

In its final report, the group said it managed to identified three victims, but noting that “as many as 20 individuals came forward to members of a community protest group that formed following the May 2021 Kamloops discovery [of a mass grave].”

Two alleged victims participated in the investigation, while the others have not come forward, “nor have they been identified if they exist.”

The conclusion: the investigation did not “support any allegation of childhood sexual abuse by Father Leon Lajoie.”

Nevertheless, Melissa Montour, spokesperson for the group that demanded Lajoie’s exhumation, argues allegations of sexual abuse against the priest were well known in the community.

“It’s trauma,” she said. “These things are triggers to the dark, unspoken history across this country.”

Lajoie was assigned to Kahnawake from 1961 to 1996.

Quebec provincial police (SQ) are asking for the public’s help locating 42-year-old Jerome-Vincent Vaillancourt, who is on the run from authorities.