Inuit leader asks Pope Francis to personally intervene in case of priest accused of sex assault

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

The leader of the Inuit delegation privately meeting with Pope Francis on Monday is demanding the pontiff personally intervene in the case of an Oblate priest accused of sexually assaulting children in Nunavut.

Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), named Father Johannes Rivoire in his discussion with the Pope, according to prepared remarks for the meeting. Rivoire was never tried for charges in Canada because he returned to France, which does not extradite French nationals.

“I would ask you in your capacity as the head of the Catholic Church, to speak with Johannes Rivoire and direct him to return to Canada to stand trial for the harms he has done,” Obed told the Pope.

“I understand that this action may not be successful, for many reasons. In that event, I would ask you to use your influence with the relevant authorities in France to have Rivoire extradited to Canada or tried in France.”

Ahead of the meeting, Obed told CBC News that, of all the requests he planned to make — including seeking a papal apology for residential schools, calling on the church to pay reparations to survivors and disclosing all residential school documents — this one may have the most impact.

“We would like to see victims those have a semblance of justice and the families of the deceased victims also see some level of accountability,” he said.

Obed said he believes Pope Francis can play a personal role in bringing justice.

“If he would take the time to tell Father Rivoire to go to Canada then perhaps that would be successful in a way that no other body could,” Obed said.

“He has a unique place at this point in time to help Inuit and I hope that he chooses to do so.”

‘A cost of inaction’

Rivoire spent time in several Nunavut communities starting in the 1960s, but returned to France in 1993. RCMP issued a warrant for Rivoire’s arrest in 1998.

In a 2017 assessment, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada found “there was no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction regarding the charges,” and “continuing the prosecution was no longer in the public interest.”

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed, who leads the national body representing Inuit, said he believes Pope Francis can play a personal role in bringing justice to Rivoire’s victims. (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

Rivoire’s arrest warrant was canceled in 2018 following the decision to stay the charges. The fact that France does not extradite its citizens appears to have been a key factor in the decision.

Last year, Justice Minister David Lametti said he can’t resurrect the stayed charges, but said “there is always the possibility that further evidence might be brought forward by other complainants or other witnesses.”

Obed told CBC News he’s spoken to Lametti’s office, which he said has pledged to support any possible way for Rivoire to be tried.

“There is a cost of inaction,” Obed said.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports. A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419

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