Review of priest accused of sexual assaults in Nunavut finds Oblates unaware

The Canadian Press [Toronto, Canada]

March 19, 2024

By Kelly Geraldine Malone

An independent review of a priest accused of sexually abusing Inuit children in Nunavut says his Catholic order wasn’t aware of the allegations when he returned to France.

Retired Superior Court justice André Denis led the review into 93-year-old Johannes Rivoire.

Denis found the Oblates of Mary Immaculate didn’t know Rivoire was being investigated by Canadian police when he arrived in France in 1993, and the religious order was not contacted by RCMP when charges were laid five years later. 

The review says the Oblates in France learned of the charges through a news report in 2013.

“Rivoire did not tell the whole truth to his superiors, to his confrères, to the Inuit for whom he had pastoral responsibility, and he himself denies a reality that has nevertheless been demonstrated,” Denis says in his final report released Tuesday.

Rivoire refused to return to Canada after an arrest warrant was issued in 1998. He faced at least three charges of sexual abuse in the Nunavut communities of Arviat, Rankin Inlet and Naujaat. More than two decades later, the charges were stayed.

Another arrest warrant was issued for Rivoire in 2022 for a charge of indecent assault involving a girl in Arviat and Whale Cove between 1974 and 1979. French authorities denied an extradition request.

Inuit leaders and politicians urged the priest to face trial, and there was mounting pressure on the religious order to provide answers. Last year, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, OMI Lacombe Canada and the Oblates of the Province of France appointed Denis to lead the review.

Denis was also asked by the Archdiocese of Montreal in 2020 to review allegations of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults in nine Quebec Catholic dioceses. And Pope Francis tasked Denis earlier this month with investigating allegations against a senior leader of the province’s Roman Catholic Church.

Denis says his findings on Rivoire do not serve as a substitute for a trial. However, based on the “preponderance of evidence,” the review supports allegations that Rivoire assaulted six children in Nunavut. 

The review also found evidence of another Inuit victim around 1968 to 1970, although no complaint was filed.

Rivoire has denied all allegations against him, and none have been proven in court.

When the Oblates in France confronted Rivoire 15 years after the charges were filed, the report says he told another priest in France that he is “not innocent” and “in the (Inuit) environment children were looking for tenderness that they didn’t have in their families.”

“If I’m not innocent, the children aren’t either, but we don’t say that,” the report alleges Rivoire said.

Denis met with Rivoire in France last year. The priest maintained his innocence, the report says, but he admitted to having a sexual relationship with a woman.

Rivoire arrived in Canada in 1959. He stayed in the North until January 1993, when he told superiors he needed to return to France to take care of his elderly parents. 

That same month, four people went to the RCMP in Nunavut to accuse Rivoire of sexual assaults.

Denis says it’s possible rumours about the priest’s behaviour are why he left, but that information was not shared with the church. 

Denis spoke to some of the complainants and family members of those who have since died. They talked about ongoing trauma and pain.

Many believed the Oblates played a role in Rivoire’s departure, the report says.

Denis says he reviewed extensive records from the Oblates in Canada, France and Rome. He also spoke with church officials from that time. He found no evidence the church was aware of the allegations or that it played any role in helping Rivoire flee.

The report says neither the 1998 charges nor the arrest warrant were served on Rivoire or the Oblates. There was a publication ban, and the case was not made public. The following year, RCMP informed a northern diocese of an investigation and provided contact detailsfor Rivoire in France.

“The RCMP had no communication with the Oblates, nor did they notify them of anything throughout the legal process,” the report says.

When the Oblates learned of the Canadian criminal proceedings, Rivoire was forbidden from doing public ministry. The Oblates in Canada and France repeatedly urged Rivoire to face the charges, but he refused.

The Oblates in Canada and France also appealed to leadership in Rome to commence the dismissal proceedings against Rivoire, but it was ruled earlier this year the priest can remain a member of the congregation. 

Denis urges the superior general in Rome to review that decision. It would not bring justice Inuit families want, the report says, but could bring some healing. 

“A symbolic measure but a balm for the victims’ wounds. Perhaps the only one,” the report says.

Rev. Ken Thorson with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate Lacombe Canada said nothing can reverse the harm and tragic legacy of clerical abuse.

“It is our hope this report provides some validation for those who were silenced and ignored countless times by numerous institutions and authority figures across this country,” Thorson said in a news release.