Critic says report paid for by Church about French priest is ‘not justice’

APTN - Aboriginal Peoples Television Network [Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada]

March 19, 2024

By Kathleen Martens

Lieve Halsberghe says Oblate Safeguarding Commission report ‘unworthy of a democracy’

A report that reviews a Catholic order’s handling of child sexual abuse allegations against one of its priests in Nunavut is being dismissed as nothing but propaganda by one of its staunchest critics.

“This report is not justice,” says Lieve Halsberghe, a researcher for “The church permits herself to create a parallel system they call justice, but which it is not.

“It is unworthy of a democracy that the church is allowed to investigate” itself.

The Oblates say the report, released Tuesday, is intended to provide a form of justice not available through the courts. France has refused to extradite Rivoire to face charges in Canada.

The Oblate Safeguarding Commission report commissioned by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate a year ago was released Monday and written by retired Quebec judge Andre Denis.

Denis says he concluded, based on the “preponderance of evidence” rather than proof beyond a reasonable doubt, that French priest Johannes Rivoire was guilty of sexually abusing five Inuit children between 1968 and 1979.

“That crime against a child is the worst crime anyone can do,” Denis said in an interview with APTN News Tuesday.

“I believe them,” he added of the victims he interviewed. “I told them.”

Denis says he drew his conclusion from evidence he collected during nearly a year of research on two continents.

None of the allegations against Rivoire have been tested in court and he denied them in an interview with APTN.

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Halsberghe, who was friends with one of the victims who died in 2012, denounced the report.

“…The Oblates have now paid for an expensive report so that they can officially claim to be innocent,” she said in an emailed statement.

But based on the content of the report, they cannot deny the allegations any longer, she added.

The Oblates say the report is intended to provide a form of justice not available through the courts. France has refused to extradite Rivoire to face charges in Canada.

“I hope that the findings bring some validation and some small measure of … healing for people that they have been heard,” said Rev. Ken Thorson, who speaks for the Oblates in Canada. “The fact that (the judge) found credible all of the reported abuse, this was something of a surprise, but I’m grateful that the truth comes out.”

Thorson says the report does not “absolve” the Oblates, and recommends ways to improve their “safeguarding” policies and procedures.

“Ultimately, one of our members has been found to have abused children and has not been willing to make himself available to face the charges against him. I would say the Oblates didn’t move quickly enough and early enough and that has contributed to an extension of the suffering of those who were hurt.”

The report may help them finally get Rivoire, now 93, out of the order. Last month, church leadership in Rome declined to remove the priest citing his ailing health.

“His lawyers have said that according to his doctors he’s not able to fly to travel for more than an hour,” said Thorson.

Denis says the regional Inuit organization Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) and the Nunavut court did not respond to his requests to provide information and participate in the review.

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The judge says he paid for court documents that never arrived.

“It’s regretful because it would have made for a fuller report,” noted Thorson. “I wouldn’t offer any comment as to why they didn’t participate.”

NTI and national organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, asked Pope Francis in 2022 to intervene in the case. There has been no indication the pontiff acted.

One of the victims still hopes to face Rivoire in court. Or France.

“I want him to apologize for what he did to me,” said the woman in an interview.

“They say his age is a consideration. What about my age? I was a child.”

Thorson wouldn’t reveal the cost of the report except to say “it was considerable.”

NTI did not respond to requests for comment from APTN News.