Residential school survivor Evelyn Korkmaz is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to release thousands of documents that detail the sexual and physical abuse of thousands of Indigenous children at St. Anne’s residential school in the last century.
Korkmaz said the federal government has not turned over 12,300 reports from Ontario Provincial Police investigations of violations at St. Anne’s in Fort Albany, Ont. despite an Ontario Superior Court order.
Following the court order in 2014, Ottawa released heavily redacted copies of materials generated by the OPP between 1992 and 1996.
“They’re useless if they’re redacted,” Korkmaz said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “This is part of Canada’s Indigenous history. We can learn from this.”
St. Anne’s Indian Residential School was run by the Catholic orders of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Grey Sisters of the Cross from 1902 until 1976 and was funded by the federal government starting in 1906.
It was one of Canada’s most notorious residential schools. Indigenous children from Fort Albany First Nation in northern Ontario were sexually abused, punished by shocks delivered in electric chairs and forced to eat their own vomit, according to Edmund Metatawabin, a survivor and former chief of the First Nation.
Metatawabin was forced to attend the school between 1956 and 1963. He became a chief of his nation in 1988 and used his position to sponsor a panel for survivors to share their stories, putting together a report that triggered the police investigation in autumn 1992.
“The residential school issue is a very sensitive case for us. It was an embarrassing thing for us to face.” he said in an interview.
“It’s hard to say you were abused as a child. You want to keep that private.”
Metatawabin said more than 900 survivors of St. Anne’s decided to talk about their painful memories and testified to the police in the 1990s, resulting in a trove of information and criminal convictions of six former employees at the school.
In 2006, lawyers for former students and for the churches that ran residential schools, the Assembly of First Nations, other Indigenous organizations and the government approved the Indian Residential School Settlement, which included independent assessment processes to set compensation for claims of sexual or serious physical abuse.
However, many survivors of St. Anne’s have taken the federal government to court, seeking to reopen compensation cases that were settled before the partial release of the police documents in 2014.
A group of 60 survivors launched a case in 2013, claiming that the federal government failed to turn over those documents and breached the settlement agreement.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell, who has spent years supervising implementation of the settlement agreement, ruled earlier this year the case should be heard by a judge in British Columbia.
Perell had recused himself over his previous criticism of one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers.
In November, the Ontario Court of Appeal found Perell wrong to order the legal fight to be heard in B.C., saying the case pressed by survivors of St. Anne’s should remain in Ontario. The next hearing is to take place virtually on Dec. 31.
But Justice Brenda Brown of British Columbia Supreme Court issued a court order in May that permits the federal government to destroy the police documents in the new year.
The federal Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Department said in a statement Tuesday the government will retain the police reports until the courts determine the matters before them.
Metatawabin said the documents reveal wrongdoing by the government and the churches. “Instead of making amends, (the government) tried to hide these documents from survivors and from the public.”
The documents have significant value for the Fort Albany First Nation people because they contain elders’ testimonies on their history, Metatawabin said.
“These are sacred words from the elders,” he said. “It’s an insult to the memory of those elders that told their story, that the government took their words from them, and now they want to erase history.”
Korkmaz said these documents are important evidence of the violations committed at St. Anne’s.
“The government for some strange reason is protecting the pedophiles that were at our school,” she said. “A normal citizen of any country, who is caught sexually abusing a child goes to jail. … Why are the priests, the bishops, the cardinals being protected? Why are they allowed to do it?”
One priest, the principal of my high school, invited his favorite students to his cabin on the river to fish and enjoy water sports in the summer. Looking back on it all, it never once occurred to me during those outings that some of the questions he would ask about our personal lives might be an indicator of some repressed sexual desires that the church seemed to ignore with its vow of celibacy for priests.
It wasn’t until a few years ago when I read an account of the director of the film, “Guardians of the Galaxy”, James Gunn, that I realized the same priest/principal who was befriending boys in my high school was also prominent in the young life of this successful director in a parish across town from my experience. According to Gunn, that same priest would give young boys in his class alcohol and pornography.
In July 2019, the St. Louis Archdiocese would release the names of St. Louis priests with “substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.” And there on the list was the priest that James Gunn and I encountered in our formative years. He had risen to a top administrative post in the Archdiocese, but it was only after his death that the Archdiocese would identify him as a child abuser.
He died of cancer in 2000 in retirement and was never held accountable. Like Gunn, I was never victimized by this priest, but how many young students around us were violated by this man and had their lives ruined or destroyed in the process?
Years later, when I was lieutenant governor of Illinois, the flip side of this sad tale of priestly abuse would enter my life when I was asked by Father Mike Ivers to walk the streets of the near west side of Chicago to see firsthand the impact of failed government policies on the powerless and the poor. Father Mike was pastor of a parish in Chicago’s North Lawndale community, drug- and gang-infested at the time. It was a dangerous assignment for a white priest who requested parish work on Chicago’s south and west side and who, at one point in his ministry, was threatened with a gang hit.
Father Mike fought for his parishioners before the Chicago Housing Authority to improve housing conditions. He worked with police and the courts to rescue juveniles from gangs and a criminal justice system that too often consigned them to a life of crime. He would rail against social service agencies that failed to protect children. But he saved most of his wrath for his own church and its mishandling of countless cases of priest pedophilia. He would take on the Cardinal in advocating for a tougher stance against accused priests and the system of assignment that moved pedophiles from parish to parish.
Father Mike Ivers was a man who lived his faith daily and never once strayed from his priestly vows. He officiated at our daughter’s wedding and at my father’s funeral. We attended Mass at his parish and met some of the finest people of faith we’ve met in our lives. My office staff would assist at Christmastime with the distribution of gifts to kids whose families couldn’t afford Christmas presents. Throughout our friendship, Mike talked often about the toll the celibacy vow had taken on the priesthood, about how its refusal to ordain women held back the church from being the religious and community force it could be in our lives.
In a mid-career correction, Mike realized his own need for an intimacy that he felt should only be achieved with the sacrament of matrimony. He wanted to marry. And because his church forbade married priests, he left the church and his beloved parish. He married, assumed a new life and career in social services.
What happened next you would think is the work of a novelist twisting and turning the plot. It was not. Father Mike, this arch-critic of Archdiocesan complicity in priestly child abuse, was succeeded as pastor of his parish by a priest who became the most notorious child sex-abuser in the history of the Chicago Archdiocese. In yet another failure of the Archdiocese, the priest was not removed after the first offense and went on to commit more crimes of pedophilia. He was sentenced to prison, served his term and has since been confined indefinitely to a state facility for sex offenders for his failure to even admit he has a problem.
Mike Ivers died a few years ago, a humble servant of his God, a man who lived the good life and along the way enriched the lives of his parishioners, friends and family. His life offers hope to Catholics who decry the church’s role in these scandals over the years but look to a time when priests like Mike Ivers are the stories in the news, not pedophiles and church officials who cover up.
Sexual abuse of Innu, Atikamekw children at hands of missionaries was rampant, Enquête finds
By Julia Page, Loreen Pindera
“He’d let us drive. He knew how to do everything. We were impressed to see a priest act that way,” recalls Jason Petiquay.
Petiquay was 11 when he was sexually abused by Raynald Couture, an Oblate missionary who worked in Wemotaci, Que., from 1981 to 1991.
The Atikamekw community 285 kilometres north of Trois-Rivières was one of many remote First Nations communities in Quebec where priests belonging to the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) were spiritual leaders and authority figures for generations.
Petiquay described how Couture would lure young boys to his cabin by inviting them for a ride on his all-terrain vehicle or in his pick-up truck.
His story of abuse is one of dozens Atikamekw and Innu people in Quebec told Radio-Canada’s investigative program Enquête in a report set to air Thursday evening.
It paints of bleak portrait of widespread sexual abuse at the hands of at least 10 Oblate priests in eight different communities served by the missionary order, which began its evangelization work among Inuit and First Nations in Canada in 1841.
MMIWG shines light on decades-old secret
It has been almost a year since women from the isolated Innu communities of Unamen Shipu and Pakua Shipu, on Quebec’s Lower North Shore, described how they were sexually assaulted by an Oblate priest who worked in their territory for four decades, until his death in 1992.
One after another, alleged victims of the Belgian native, Father Alexis Joveneau, told the federal inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIWG) how the charismatic and much-admired priest had abused them as children.
“I could not talk about it,” Thérèse Lalo told commissioners. “He was like a god.”
“We are absolutely devastated by these troubling testimonies,” the OMI’s Quebec office said in a March statement.
But the allegations in the Enquête report suggest the religious order’s superiors long knew about allegations against Joveneau.
Francis Mark, an Innu man from Unamen Shipu who said he was assaulted by Joveneau, said many years ago, he turned for help to the late Archbishop Peter Sutton, an Oblate who was made bishop of the Labrador City-Schefferville diocese in 1974.
“He let me down,” said Mark. “He didn’t guide me. Was there justice? No.”
Devout elders kept silence
In some instances which Enquête looked into, when Oblate superiors or church officials were told about the abuse, the priests were simply sent to neighbouring communities, where other Indigenous children were abused in turn.
In other cases, as in that of Father Raynald Couture in Wemotaci, deeply religious elders in the community insisted on silence.
“The mushums, the kookums [grandmothers and grandfathers], they asked him to stay in the community,” said Charles Coocoo, a Wemotaci man who once demanded that Couture leave.
Mary Coon, a social worker at the time, went straight to the religious order to ask them to intervene, but without an official police complaint, the Oblates refused.
“The boys wouldn’t file a complaint,” said Coon. “We wanted to get him out of here, but how could we? There was no complaint. We had nothing.”
In 1991, Couture was sent to France, where he remained until eight of his victims pressed charges. In 2004, he was sentenced to 15 months in jail, a punishment another victim, Alex Coocoo, called so light as to be “ridiculous.”
‘A sin to talk’
Claude Niquay said he was a seven-year-old altar boy when he alleges he was first molested by Father Clément Couture, another Oblate missionary who was posted in Manawan, an Atikamekw community southwest of Wemotaci, until 1996.
Niquay was forced to see his alleged abuser every day, when he delivered meals cooked by his grandmother to the priest.
When he tried to tell his grandmother about the assaults, he was punished.
“She’d tell me to go sit in a corner, that it was a sin to talk about those things,” he said.
Before Couture’s arrival, the community had been served by two other Oblate priests, Édouard Meilleur, and later, Jean-Marc Houle, whose alleged victims — elderly now — still recall their assaults vividly.
Antoine Quitish was just five when Meilleur allegedly stripped off his cloak and forced himself on him, “poking” Quitish’s chest with his penis.
“I’m happy that [the story] is out now,” said Quitish, now 75.
Other Atikamekw elders described Meilleur as an exhibitionist who would slip his hands under girls’ dresses during confession.
Enquête heard how Houle, who was posted in Manawan from 1953 to 1970, was drawn to pregnant women: he’s alleged to have spread holy oil over the stomachs, the breasts and the genitals of his victims, explaining he was warding off the devil in their unborn children.
The stories got out.
“I told the archdiocese, ‘If you don’t get that guy out of there, tomorrow morning it will be on the front page of the newspapers’,” recalls Huron-Wendat leader Max Gros-Louis, then the head of the Association of Indians of Quebec.
Houle was removed, said Gros-Louis — only to be sent to the Innu community of Pessamit, on Quebec’s North Shore.
Community warned of priest’s behaviours
Robert Dominique, then a band councillor in Pessamit, said his Atikamekw friends warned him about Houle, but the culture of the time ensured his silence.
“For elders, their faith is deeply rooted,” Dominique said. “Religion is sacred.”
Saying out loud that a priest was violating women and children was inconceivable, Gros-Louis agreed.
“You wouldn’t be allowed to go out anymore. You’d be banished, excommunicated,” he said.
There is no evidence Houle’s alleged assaults continued in Pessamit. However, people in that community recall abuse by three Oblate priests who preceded him.
Dominique’s sister, Rachelle, alleges she was first assaulted by Father Sylvio Lesage in the 1960s, and when Father Roméo Archambault replaced him in the 1970s, for her, things got worse.
He would take her into the church basement, she remembers.
“He was behind me, holding my little breasts,” she alleges, “and after I had to masturbate him in the dark.”
She described feeling “broken, vilified.”
Jean-Yves Rousselot also recounted being sexually assaulted by Archambault — alleged assaults that continued when that Oblate missionary was replaced by Father René Lapointe. The young altar boy told his grandfather what had happened and was beaten.
“I had to go to confession, to confess that I had committed blasphemy,” Rousselot said.
Lapointe was his confessor.
The priest would later be relocated to another Innu community, Nutashkuan, where he remained for 30 years, allegedly paying children to masturbate him.
In 2003, provincial police launched an investigation following a complaint, but charges were never laid.
Class action suit awaits Oblates
In the Innu community of Mani-Utenam, Gérard Michel recalls community elders sending him, along with another young man, to Baie-Comeau in 1970 to ask the archbishop to remove Father Omer Provencher, who is alleged to have been sexually assaulting girls in the community.
Nothing was done.
“Nothing, nothing, nothing,” said Michel, now an elder himself.
Provencher, who left the priesthood to live with an Innu woman years ago, told Enquête he will not answer any questions until he is formally charged with a crime.
Father René Lapointe, the priest who spent three decades in Nutashkuan, denies he ever sexually assaulted children.
Now at the Oblates’ retirement home in Richelieu, he told Enquête there is absolutely no truth in any of it.
“Nothing is true in that story. These are all inventions,” he said.
Raynald Couture, the Oblate priest who was found guilty of sexually assaulting children in Wemotaci, lives in the same retirement home.
He admits his past crimes.
“I drank like a bastard, and that’s when those things happened,” he told Enquête. He called his assaults “a weakness” and then a “game with the children,” and said he sought help from his superiors, asking to see the Oblates’ psychologist.
“They never even came,” he said.
Most of the priests accused of having assaulted so many Innu and Atikamekw people as children are dead now; Father Alexis Joveneau, who died in 1992, is buried in the cemetery in Unamen Shipu, where he spent so many years.
In late March, just days after the Oblates issued their apology and set up a hotline for Joveneau’s alleged victims, a class action suit was launched in Quebec for all victims of sexual assault at the hands of Oblate priests.
Lawyer Alain Arsenault says to date, 48 victims have come forward, alleging they were assaulted by 14 different Oblate missionaries.
With the court case pending, the head of the Oblates’ Quebec office, Father Superior Luc Tardif, turned down a request to be interviewed for this story.
Regardless of the results of that lawsuit, people in Unamen Shipu are asking that Joveneau’s remains, buried next to their Innu loved ones, be exhumed and taken away.
The DNA of a deceased Catholic priest, the Rev. Thomas S Sullivan, today was found to match the DNA of James C Graham, a South Carolina man who has waged a decades-long battle with Church officials over information regarding his parentage.
“Silent for 25 years (deceased Mar. 31, 1993), my father spoke to me today via his DNA. At Last, I have validated a truth I was denied my entire life; Father Thomas S Sullivan, an Oblate priest from Lowell, MA, was my father. The scheme devised to save the church from scandal in the 40’s, took me from my mother’s custody as a toddler, and ensured I would never know my father,” said Graham.
Ann Marie Mires, a forensic anthropologist, performed an exhumation of Sullivan’s remains on June 18, in Tewksbury, MA, at a private cemetery owned by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a worldwide Catholic religious order. She then sent samples of the remains to Bode Cellmark Forensics, a Virginia firm that conducted the DNA tests.
Known for her work identifying the remains of victims of convicted Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, Mires said, “The confirmation of the DNA results is the significant step in restoring the rights and dignities to Jim Graham that were kept from him for the last 25 years. We are very pleased to have assisted Jim in his journey to find his true biological affinity and restore his family tree.”
Twenty-five years ago, Graham, now 73, was told his father may have been a Catholic priest. Upon seeing an obituary with a photo of Sullivan, Graham said he was immediately struck by the strong resemblance between Sullivan’s face and his own facial features.
Graham said he never doubted Sullivan was his father. But when he approached Oblate officials for confirmation he encountered quiet resistance. One Oblate priest who knew Sullivan told Graham to, “Forget the injustices of the past,” adding, “You have good genes, so get on with the rest of your life.”
Another priest provided Graham with church documents from the 1940s. The documents included correspondence between the Oblates in Buffalo, NY, where Sullivan was working, and Rome, confirming that Sullivan was involved with a woman. The priest also said other records had been purged, records that Graham believes would have shown that Sullivan fathered a son.
In February of this year, Graham wrote Oblate officials requesting the exhumation. To his surprise, the request was granted. Graham said he still hopes the Oblates will reveal the measures they took to conceal his parentage, denying him the chance to forge a relationship with his father.
For 25 years, Jim Graham has tried to prove he is the son of a deceased Catholic priest who grew up in Lowell and graduated from Boston College.
He pulled old adoption records that mention his “alleged father.” He leaned on leaked documents from a friendly priest and petitioned Catholic leaders all the way to Rome, to no avail.
The quest continued Monday afternoon in a Catholic cemetery in Tewksbury, as a backhoe turned up earth on the Rev. Thomas Sullivan’s grave and promised to provide answers once and for all.
“We missed a lot, the two of us,” Graham said, fighting back tears after the exhumation. “Didn’t have much opportunity for father and son.”
Graham, his wife, and forensic pathologist Anna Marie Mires came to this cemetery on the grounds of an infirmary run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to take a DNA sample from Sullivan’s body. The sample will be compared with a sample provided by Graham and should offer a morbid capstone of Graham’s long search for the truth.
Children of Catholic priests live with secrets and sorrow: Jim Graham
“I never wanted it to come to this,” he said days earlier.
Graham, 72, had longed for some kind of confirmation from the Oblates, a 202-year-old Catholic religious order. He sought some acknowledgment that they knew and had tried to save face all these years.
“But they wouldn’t do that so I was left with no choice,” Graham said.
Although his quest appears to be unique, Graham is one of thousands of people around the world with credible claims that they were fathered by Catholic priests, often with no confirmation or financial support from the church. Frequently compelled to lead lives of silence and sorrow, they are the unfortunate victims of a religion that has, for nearly 900 years, forbidden priests to marry or have sex but has never set rules for what priests or bishops must do when a clergyman fathers a child.
Earlier this year, Graham received permission to conduct the exhumation from the Washington, D.C., office of the Oblates and had to overcome a variety of obstacles before the digging could begin.
He acquired a permit from the town of Tewksbury. Later, he went shopping for a drill bit that would be used to bore into Sullivan’s femur, an optimum location for retrieving DNA from a body that may have decomposed.
“So, there I was at Lowe’s buying some of the tools that the forensic anthropologist would use on my father,” said Graham, who was featured in a 2017 Globe Spotlight investigation into the children of Catholic priests. “I’m learning about all these procedures in ways I never thought I would.”
That drill bit came into play Monday. Mires, the forensic anthropologist, said the metal casket was raised from the grave. A nameplate identified the remains as the Rev. Thomas Sullivan, ensuring her that she had found the right body.
Mires said the remains were so well-preserved that she could recognize Sullivan from the photos she had seen. She took a sample from Sullivan’s femur, and three additional samples from other parts of his body, which was standard procedure for her. “From a DNA perspective, I was very happy about that,” Mires said.
The accelerated DNA testing will be done in Virginia, by Bode Cellmark Forensics, and Graham expects to receive test results in about a month. He said the total cost of the exhumation, the forensic anthropologist, a funeral director, and testing will exceed $10,000.
Coping International, a group that provides counseling and other support for priests’ children, has followed Graham’s case.
“I’m happy for Jim and I hope he finally finds closure,” said Vincent Doyle, the son of an Irish priest and the group’s founder. “But this was really a last resort and I can’t help but wonder, after 70 years, was there not a simpler solution?”
The Oblates say there was not. “Nobody is denying Jim’s idea that Father Tom Sullivan was his father,” said the Rev. Thomas G. Coughlin, the assistant to the order’s United States provincial. “We’ve been attempting to put his mind at ease. We just don’t have the information he wishes we would give him.”
Graham remains skeptical of that explanation, and for good reason. For a quarter century, at times working with the help of a detective agency, he has collected documents showing that Sullivan was almost certainly his father. The documents include more than 30 pages of records from a New York City adoption agency, which his mother used for day-care services after she left her husband, the man who raised Graham, in Buffalo, N.Y.
Those records refer to Jim as an “o.w. child,” or a child born out of wedlock, and mention a sympathetic “alleged father” living nearby.
Other records — church documents given to Jim by a friendly priest, and a transcript of his mother’s divorce proceedings — strongly suggest Sullivan deserted the Oblates and moved to New York City at about the same time as Jim’s mother.
The church records show that Sullivan was transferred from a church in Buffalo to the Oblate College in Newburgh, N.Y., about a 90-minute drive from Manhattan, “to protect him and save him” from “a serious occasion.” They also show that Sullivan left the college a month later, without leaving a forwarding address, saying he would never return.
If Graham’s mother and the Rev. Sullivan were attempting to start a new life as lovers and his parents, their plans were abruptly dashed when private detectives raided their New York City apartment. This, according to Graham, gave his stepfather the evidence he used to divorce his mother and retain custody of him and two girls that Graham now believes are his half-sisters.
After the raid, Sullivan rejoined the Oblates and spent the next 16 years doing penance — translating religious texts and performing menial tasks — at a shrine the Oblates maintained in upstate New York, according to church records reviewed by The Boston Globe. When the Oblates deemed him rehabilitated, he fulfilled assignments in far-flung regions of the country and eventually returned to Tewksbury, where in 1993 he died of melanoma in the infirmary overlooking the cemetery where he was buried.
Troubled by questions about why the man who raised him treated him so coldly, Graham carefully assembled the documents and interviewed clergy members, including a nun who knew the priest well. He petitioned Oblate leaders in Rome, asking that they formally acknowledge Sullivan was his father, but to no avail.
Then, last year, when Graham was prominently featured in the Spotlight investigation, he was contacted by a clergy abuse survivor from the Boston area who has been a vociferous advocate for other survivors.
Olan Horne, who was molested by the late Rev. Joseph Birmingham, offered to broker a meeting with Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the leader of a commission established by Pope Francis to study the issue of priests who sexually abuse children and young people. It was Horne’s hope, and Graham’s, that O’Malley would use his influence to push the Oblates to be more responsive.
O’Malley met with Horne in late December, Graham said, although Graham was not permitted to be there. As a result, Graham received a call from the Rev. Louis Studer, the head of the Oblates in the United States, though Studer offered little in the way of help.
“We’ve told him our records contain no reference to any offspring by Father Tom Sullivan,” said Coughlin, Studer’s assistant. “We have records but they don’t contain the information he’d like us to find there.”
But Graham persisted, until the Oblates agreed to allow him to exhume the Rev. Sullivan’s remains, leading him to pursue his quest to the end of the line – the small cemetery here on the grounds of the Oblate infirmary. “I’m pretty persistent,” Graham said. “I wasn’t going to go away.”