Priest accused of abusing Inuit children in Canada will not be dismissed by church

The Guardian [London, England]

February 29, 2024

By Leyland Cecco

Senior church officials in Rome decline to act, citing worsening health of French clergyman known as ‘devil priest’

A French clergyman dubbed the “devil priest” who stands accused of sexually abusing Inuit children in Canada’s north will not be dismissed from his congregation after senior church officials in Rome declined to act, citing the nonagenarian’s declining health.

Johannes Rivoire, a priest with the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, worked in several Canadian Arctic communities in the 1960s and 70s before returning to France in 1993.

Police laid charges against Rivoire following accusations of sexual assault in the communities of Arviat, Rankin Inlet and Naujaat. But the charges were later stayed, largely due to France’s longstanding policy of not extraditing its citizens to face charges abroad. Rivoire, now in his mid-90s, remains the subject of a Canada-wide arrest warrant.

In 2021, the Inuk elder Peter Irniq told APTN News that his friend Marius Tungilik was one of Rivoire’s alleged victims. Tungilik died by suicide in 2012 aged 55. “[Marius] drank and drank and drank. He was very much haunted by this devil priest,” said Irniq.

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, OMI Lacombe Canada and the Oblates of the Province of France had previously asked church leadership in Rome to dismiss Rivoire. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate say they have also asked Rivoire to return to Canada to face the charges against him, a request he has refused.

This week, Father Ken Thorson, the leader of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) Lacombe Canada told the Canadian Press that, considering Rivoire’s age, Rome would not dismiss him from the Oblates.

Thorson said he was “deeply disappointed” by the decision. A dismissal would not have compelled Rivoire to return to Canada but Thorson said a different decision from Rome might have shown the church was willing to show some form of commitment to reconciliation and accountability.

On Tuesday, the justice minister, Arif Virani, told reporters that his government was working with Interpol on the case and had requested a “red notice” – a request to apprehend Rivoire if he ever left France.

Virani said Rivoire, who has been moved to an Oblates’ administration house in Lyon after protests outside his retirement home, is accused of “reprehensible conduct, and we need to ensure that justice is pursued” against both the priest and anyone accused of severe crimes.

Rivoire has denied the allegations, and none has been tested in court.

While justice for the alleged victims remains elusive, the Oblates – in Canada and in France – have requested an independent review, led by retired judge of the superior court of Quebec justice André Denis, into the allegations of sexual abuse against Rivoire. The report, which will give suggestions how Oblate policies and governance could be improved to better protect minors and ensure accountability, is expected before 1 April.