Canada’s Inuit seek Pope’s help to return accused priest from France

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FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis leads Angelus prayer

By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba – Canada’s Inuit people will press Pope Francis to help return a retired Roman Catholic priest accused of sexual abuse to face charges in Canada, a former political leader in the country’s North said.

Francis plans to visit Canada July 24-29 to apologize for abuses of indigenous children in government schools largely run by the Catholic church.

Retired priest Johannes Rivoire, 93, is charged with sexual assault related to his work in northern parishes for the Catholic congregation Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The charge against Rivoire, who lives in Lyon, France, was laid by Canadian police in February.

A woman alleged that Rivoire sexually assaulted her between 1974 and 1979, when she was a young girl. Neither the charge nor any allegations against Rivoire have been proven in court.

Rivoire, who has French and Canadian citizenship, did not respond to a request for comment Reuters made through France’s Oblates.

The woman who alleged the assault, now a grandmother, said to this day she does not like Sundays, when her abuse often took place. She keeps her hair short, remembering that her abuser would pull the long hair she had as a girl, to keep her quiet.

“I’m hoping (Francis) can help,” the woman told Reuters. “We’re Inuit, we have feelings too. We’re hurt from inside to outside.”

Identities of sexual assault victims are protected by Canadian courts.

Inuit have long alleged that Rivoire sexually abused children during his work in northern Canada from the 1960s to 1993.

Police laid three sex-related charges against Rivoire in 1998, but by then he had left for France. Canada’s Justice Department dropped those charges in 2017 concluding there was little chance of conviction given his departure.

Father Vincent Gruber, who leads France’s Oblates, said the group has asked Rivoire over the years to deal with the charges against him but he has refused.

Piita Irniq, 75, a former Nunavut politician, said he will use the five minutes he is scheduled with the Pope in Iqaluit next Friday to raise Rivoire’s case.

Irniq’s childhood friend, Marius Tungilik, said he was sexually abused by clergy, including Rivoire, as a boy in what’s now Naujaat, Nunavut.

The trauma drove Tungilik to drink heavily, leading to his 2012 death, Irniq said.

“He used alcohol to try and heal from what happened.”

The extradition treaty between Canada and France states that neither country is bound to extradite its own nationals. A spokesperson for Canada’s Justice Department declined to comment on whether Canada asked France to extradite Rivoire.

France’s foreign ministry and justice ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

“We urge Johannes Rivoire to do what he should have done long ago, cooperate with police and make himself available for the legal process,” said Father Ken Thorson, leader of OMI Lacombe, one of Canada’s Oblates groups.

A Vatican spokesperson said he needed to seek more information about Rivoire.

(Additional reporting by Steve Scherer in Ottawa, Mathieu Rosemain in Paris and Philip Pullella in Rome; Editing by David Gregorio)

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