Report concludes Oblate abused Nunavut children

The Catholic Register - Archdiocese of Toronto, Ontario, Canada

March 19, 2024

By Quinton Amundsen

[See the report.]

Following an exhaustive investigation, retired Superior Court of Quebec Justice André Denis concluded French priest Joannès Rivoire was guilty of sexually assaulting five minors in Naujaat, Nunavut, between 1968 and 1970, and one in Arviat and Whale Cove, Nunavut, between 1974 and 1979.

Denis also found that Rivoire departed Canada on Jan. 16, 1993, “hiding this terrible reality” from his Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) superiors and Churchill-Hudson Bay Bishop Reynald Rouleau. Thus, “the Oblates in Canada and the ecclesiastical authorities in Nunavut neither concealed nor organized Joannès Rivoire’s ‘flight’ from Canada to France in 1993, and they too were victims of his duplicity and prevarication” when Rivoire told his order he needed to return to his home country to care for his ailing parents.

Between Jan. 20 and Feb. 28, 1993, four plaintiffs visited the RCMP detachment in Nunavut to sign a statement accusing Rivoire of sexual assault in Naujaat, known as Repulse Bay until July 2015. The RCMP did not file complaints with the justice of the peace in Nunavut and issue arrest warrants for Rivoire until Dec. 29, 1998. One victim identified by Denis never filed a complaint.

In Spring 2023, Denis was entrusted to independently review the “Joannès Rivoire Affair” by Fr. Ken Thorson, provincial superior of OMI Lacombe, and Fr. Renaud Saliba, provincial of the Oblates in France. Over the following months, Denis pored through “hundreds upon hundreds” of archival documents on multiple continents and heard many witness testimonies. On March 15, he submitted his finalized Report of the Oblate Safeguarding Commission, which was translated into French and Inuktitut.

“Justice Denis’ report comes after years of advocacy from the Inuit community and, of course, as Justice Denis points out, years of suffering from people who were harmed by clergy abuse,” said Thorson. “The first reaction that I had upon reading the report was real sorrow and gratitude that he so clearly states his findings based on the evidence that the reports of abuse are well-founded in each case.”

Thorson has “shared this report with the Oblate General Administration, as well as secular authorities in Canada and France, and will support any steps that can be taken to hold Joannès Rivoire to account.” He also understands that “with his declining health and advanced cancer treatments, he may never be formally removed as a priest or face a court trial.”

Rivoire, now 93, has refused all requests to return to Canada, and French authorities refuse to extradite him. As of January 2023, he resides at the Maison des Oblats in Lyon. He was moved there from the Lyon EPHAD as protests outside the elderly care facility frightened its residents. He currently lives off a pension from the Canadian and French governments.

Last month, the Vatican ruled against dismissing Rivoire from the Oblates. Denis said he hopes this report could encourage a revisiting of that decision.

“I hope that the Oblate Superior General in Rome (Fr. Luis Ignacio Rois Alonso) will carefully read my report and accept my last conclusion to withdraw Joannès Rivoire from the Oblate community,” said Denis. “It will be a symbolic gesture; as I wrote, it may be the only one.”

Denis expressedthat “it was a very difficult and painful mandate.” He said he told the victims and the surviving loved ones “that he believed them, and maybe that was the first time that someone believed them.” He added that he was committed to ensuring “the report was respectful to the victims.”

The retired justice met with a number of the plaintiffs and relatives, including the family of plaintiff #3, who passed away in 2012. He worked in the co-operative established by Rivoire where, as he told his ex-wife, Rivoire sexually abused him.

Other family members of plaintiff #3 directed anger toward the RCMP, saying officers “are contemptuous and racist towards Inuit. They never take us seriously. They didn’t do anything until 1998, despite #3’s complaint.”

It was similar with Plaintiff #5, a female born in 1968 who met with Denis. The report described the interview as “extremely painful” as she described how Rivoire abused her “again and again and again” from ages six to 11. In 1979, “he showed her a threatening poster showing the devil and the fires of hell and told her that if she told anyone what he was doing, she would burn eternally in hell. She promised not to tell.”

Plaintiff #5 first attempted to file a complaint in 1995, but the RCMP told her she did not have enough evidence to convict him. She had no witnesses.

In a Nov. 2, 2023, email, an RCMP liaison officer explained the reason for the nearly six-year delay from the meetings with plaintiffs to the laying of charges was because “Chesterfield Inlet Task Force conducted inquiries into the Bernier Federal Day School from September 1993 until later 1995, essentially trying to determine if there were any additional complaints that warranted charges.” The initial charges would remain on hold until the task force fulfilled its objective. Afterwards, officers interviewed additional witnesses and potential victims about these historical cases. The liaison officer added, “as you are aware, travel across the territory can be challenging.”

The Rivoire file remained inactive from 1998 until the formal legal proceedings against him dissolved on Oct. 4, 2017. Denis found “neither the 1998 complaints, nor the arrest warrant, nor any legal proceedings emanating from Nunavut were ever served on Joannès Rivoire or the Oblates.” Also, the RCMP “had no communication with the Oblates, nor did they notify them of anything throughout the legal process. The same goes for the plaintiffs.”

In fact, the Nunavut Court of Justice apparently did not cooperate with Denis’ investigation. He made “numerous attempts” to obtain information and a copy of all available documents connected to the five complaints against Rivoire in 1993 and 2021, but he attained nothing.

“It is not correct; it is not correct,” he told The Register. “I cannot accept that. I’m no longer a judge, but I am a former colleague, and I am working on an inquiry I believe in.”

The French Oblates only learned that criminal proceedings existed against Rivoire on Nov. 29, 2013. They were stunned. According to Denis’ research, which involved many interviews and document probing in Marseille and Lyon, “Rivoire’s dedication and zeal since his return to France in 1993 have been above suspicion.”

Fr. Yves Chalvet de Récy, the provincial of France from 2008 to 2014, consulted with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome and received guidance for him to forbid Rivoire from public ministry, particularly any that would put him in contact with minors until the legal proceedings concluded.

Denis interviewed Rivoire in April 2023. The latter reportedly told the former, “I’m not completely innocent, nobody’s perfect, but I haven’t done anything with children.” He did divulge “having a sexual relationship with an Inuit woman of full age.” He added that during a 2022 delegation meeting in Lyon with Canadians who demanded Rivoire return to Canada, Rivoire said he didn’t recognize the two plaintiffs who confronted him.