NCTR digging into records of Oblate priests who staffed residential schools

Oblates pledge to loosen privacy policy on personnel records

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg.

By Kathleen Martens

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation is doing a deep dive into the backgrounds of religious personnel who ran residential schools for the federal government.

The Centre’s head archivist recently returned from Rome where he spent five days viewing, among other things, personnel records of Catholic Oblate priests.

“We know very, very little about the teachers, the professors, the priests,” said Raymond Frogner in an interview.

“And I think that’s wrong.”

Frogner said the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a missionary arm of the Catholic Church, staffed 48 of the 139 federally funded residential schools in Canada.

He said the group opened its archives to the Centre after the public outcry that followed the discovery of 215 suspected unmarked graves located at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C.  The Oblates ran the Kamloops school.

“If we want a complete story of the residential school system – how it was run, what the experience was like – then we need to know more about the teachers who served there,” Frogner added.

“We are currently in discussion with the Oblates to open up the personnel files, and they have agreed to that.”

A memorial outside the former Kamloops school that was illuminated orange to honour victims of residential schools in June.

215 graves

The 215 graves announced by Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc leadership are believed to be that of children who died at the school. More suspected graves have been discovered on other First Nations and more searches are planned.

Research by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified 3,213 deaths at residential schools between the 1880s and 1990s.

Frogner said he has a list of approximately 15 Oblate priests who were convicted of crimes against children forced to attend the schools and he specifically located those personnel files in the Rome archives.

But he was unable to copy the information due to the Oblates’ privacy policy.

APTN News was denied the personnel file of Fr. Joannes Rivoire, who is accused of sexually abusing an Inuk girl in the 1970s while serving as a church priest in Nunavut for 30 years. Rivoire said he didn’t do it.

Fr. Ken Thorson, who speaks for the Oblates in Canada, said he couldn’t release the information due to government regulations.

“As mentioned in our release, we are actively working with our archival partners to make personnel records of Oblates as accessible as privacy law allows,” he wrote in an email.

“Unfortunately, as Johannes Rivoire is a living Oblate who is currently under investigation by secular authorities, Canadian privacy law prevents us from sharing his personnel records at this time. We have committed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation and will make any relevant records available to law enforcement.”

Oblate priests
Head office of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate Canada in Ottawa, Ont.

Oblates’ policy 

Thorson did not mention the Oblates’ own policy that protects the information for up to 50 years until after a priest has died.

Frogner said the Oblates’ have told him they may loosen their policy.

“We are currently in discussion with the Oblates to open up the personnel files and they have agreed to that,” he said.

“For one thing, they’re going to reconsider and reduce this 50-year restriction they have on files.”

Frogner said the residential schools were staffed by Oblates from abroad and Quebec.

“We don’t have a hard number of how many missionaries came from other countries but that’s something we are working on getting,” he said.

“We don’t yet have a hard number of the Canadians either. We know a large, predominant amount of them came from Quebec.”

Oblate priests
Raymond Frogner is the head of archives at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

The ‘formation’

Frogner said the personnel files gave him a glimpse of the men who became priests. The Catholic church operated 60 per cent of the schools.

“They took those vows [of poverty, chastity and obedience] when they joined as Oblates, and they had to go through what they called the formation…,” he said.

“And there’s kind of a report card from their superior that graded them on their scholastic work, their moral character, their service, their devotion – all that kind of stuff.”

Frogner noted it’s not just the Centre, which is located at the University of Manitoba, that wants the information. But Indigenous communities have been asking who had access to their children.

“[They] have asked for a more accountable, transparent record of what these priests were doing,” he said of Indigenous leaders and families.

“Really, the [Kamloops grave] discoveries from 2021 cast such a bright spotlight on the activities of the Oblates.”

The Centre wants to tell as full a story as possible about the 100-year school system designed to assimilate Indigenous children into colonial society, Frogner added.

“People can take the records and do with them what they wish,” he said. “I’m quite content to see the records used in court.

“It’s all about a better, more accountable understanding of what happened.”

Complete Article HERE!

Bridging Religion and Sexual Diversity in Latin America

People gather for a pride march in Bogota, Colombia, on July 4, 2021.

By María Mercedes Acosta

Like many Latin Americans, Enrique Vega Dávila, 36, grew up in a non-practicing Catholic family. But from a very young age, he dreamed of actually living the Catholic faith, and he chose to do so by becoming a priest. About six years into seminary, his dream was interrupted when he realized he was gay. Continuing as a member of the Catholic clergy would require him to live a double life, as so many other priests have done for centuries.

The Catholic church isn’t the only religious institution to reject ordination of or condemn people identifying as LGBTQ+. But in recent history, several Protestant denominations have chosen to be more inclusive by ordaining LGBTQ+ clergy and allowing same-sex marriage. Dávila took advantage of that change by becoming a Lutheran pastor, and he’s now obtaining a doctorate in gender studies at Iberoamericana University in Mexico City.

In his new denomination, he does not have to hide his sexual orientation, tattoos, earrings, or the makeup he sometimes likes to apply. He is well known as “el reverendo cuir” (the queer pastor). Everywhere he goes, and in every way he can, Dávila likes to remind people that religious freedom is for everyone and that no pastor or priest can prevent LGBTQ+ people from following whatever faith they believe in or loving whomever they choose.

Dávila is one of the protagonists of a multi-platform series of life stories produced by Sentiido, a nonprofit organization based in Bogotá, Colombia. Formed in 2011, Sentiido uses communications, research, and storytelling to reduce stigma and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and leverage social change. Faith + Diversity, as the project is called, is part of Sentiido’s larger commitment to amplify the work of affirming faith communities.

Enrique Vega Dávila
Enrique Vega Dávila photographed in Mexico City, Mexico, on January 27, 2022.

Faith + Diversity began in 2017 and seeks to raise awareness about the many different ways in which LGBTQ+ people engage with religion and spirituality. Stories like Dávila’s are a reminder that Christianity is rooted in the core value of unconditional love, which is why it so often invokes Biblical phrases such as “love one another as I have loved them” or “do not judge and you will not be judged.”

For Sentiido, that also means refraining from labeling and dismissing opponents of sexual and gender diversity as “homophobic,” “transphobic,” or “anti-LGBTQ rights.” Real change—fundamental transformation—takes time, and for many, it can feel as if a new worldview is being “pushed” on them, which can exacerbate already existing polarization. At Sentiido, we also know that many people of faith understand Biblical teachings in a historical context and are open to the value of inclusion. Therefore, Faith + Diversity encourages dialogue with those willing to have conversations, reminding people of all faiths what they already know: that all humans are equal in the eyes of God.

At Sentiido, we also emphasize what unites us, rather than what divides us. For example, most Latin Americans place a very high value on their family and their faith. These shared values provide a common ground for conversations about dignity, love, empathy, understanding, and support, which can lead to addressing other issues like resilience, freedom, and solidarity.

Still, changing hearts, minds, and church policies is a process. For Dávila, it starts by letting LGBTQ+ people know they don’t have to heed the warnings of Catholic leaders who say that homosexuality is not a sin but homosexual acts are, or believe evangelical and Pentecostal ministers claiming LGBTQ+ people are making “wrong choices that must be corrected.” He affirms that divine love is bigger than a church, a religious leader, or a book; rather, it is an entire life experience.

The late Harvey Milk, a gay American politician and activist who was assassinated in 1978, once told a crowd that the LGBTQ+ community is simply asking for hope: “Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope, not only are the gays, but the Blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the ‘us-es.’ The ‘us-es’ will give up.” He added that electing more LGBTQ+ people to public office would help to build that hope. “That gives a green light to all who feel disenfranchised, a green light to move forward,” Milk said. “It means hope to a nation that has given up, because if a gay person makes it, the doors are open to everyone.”

Calling out the inequality, injustice, and violence against LGBTQ+ people is as central to our work as it was to Milk’s activism. We want everyone to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. To do so, we share the stories and experiences of LGBTQ+ people in their daily lives, in their homes and churches, while holding space for all people to feel heard and be seen, even those who may be struggling with their views about LGBTQ+ people.

George Lakoff, a researcher in the field of cognitive linguistics, says constant dialogue around societal problems without conversations focused on wide-reaching solutions can reinforce old mindsets. People connect best to stories in which LGBTQ+ people show up as their authentic selves. So rather than focus on statements like “a world without hate” or “a world without discrimination,” we promote stories that give us picture of the world we would like to live in. It’s a world in which everyone strives to do the right thing by their neighbor, because everyone wins when they do so.

Complete Article HERE!

Other times popes have apologized for the sins of the Catholic Church

Pope Francis as he was welcomed in Edmonton, Canada, on July 25.


Pope Francis on Monday apologized to Canada’s Indigenous community for the role the Catholic Church played in overseeing decades of abuse at some of the nation’s residential schools. The schools, which were run by both churches and Canada’s federal government, removed about 150,000 Indigenous children from their families — and used hunger, sexual violence and religious indoctrination to forcibly assimilate the students.

But it wasn’t the first time Francis — or even his predecessors — has asked forgiveness for the church’s crimes and transgressions. In fact, his remarks were the latest in a string of papal apologies in recent years.

Not all of the pleas have fully implicated the church, instead blaming individuals for wrongdoing or misconduct. Here are some of the apologies the various heads of the Catholic Church have given in recent years.

Pope Francis

Francis is in Canada this week on the first papal visit since 2002. On Monday, clad in a headdress presented to him by Indigenous leaders, he described Canada’s residential school system as “catastrophic” and asked forgiveness for the “evil committed by so many Christians.”

“I am deeply sorry — sorry for the ways in which, regrettably, many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the Indigenous peoples,” Francis, who is from Argentina, said in his native Spanish.

Francis is the first Latin American pope and has offered several apologies since becoming the head of the Catholic Church in 2013, most notably for sexual abuse. In a letter to Chilean bishops in 2018, he admitted to “serious errors” in handling a sex abuse scandal. Later that year, he penned a lengthy letter to Catholics worldwide in which he expressed deep regret for the church’s role in the abuse of minors and the subsequent coverup, saying: “We showed no care for the little ones. We abandoned them.”

In 2015, on a trip to Bolivia, Francis apologized for the “many grave sins … committed against the native people of America in the name of God.”

“I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offense of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America,” he said, as the New York Times reported.

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI delivers his blessing on the occasion of the traditional exchange of Christmas greetings to the Curia, in the Regia Hall at the Vatican in December 2010.

Benedict XVI served as pope from 2005 to 2013, when he resigned, citing health reasons. During his pontificate, the church’s sexual abuse crisis — and his alleged involvement in helping sweep it under the rug — drew an extraordinary amount of media attention, much of which focused on Benedict himself, according to the Pew Research Center.

In 2010, as sex abuse scandals swept the dioceses of Europe, Benedict XVI wrote a letter to the Catholics of Ireland apologizing for decades of “systemic” abuse against children. He criticized church authorities in Ireland but did not discipline any leaders.

This year, the former pope expressed “profound shame” after a German investigation commissioned by the church accused him of wrongdoing in his handling of sexual abuse cases during his time running the Archdiocese of Munich between 1977 and 1982.

“I can only express to all the victims of sexual abuse my profound shame, my deep sorrow and my heartfelt request for forgiveness,” Benedict said. “I have had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church. All the greater is my pain for the abuses and the errors that occurred in those different places during the time of my mandate.”

Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II places a typed and signed note into a crack at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City in March 2000.

Pope John Paul II’s papacy lasted 27 years, from 1978 to his death in 2005. The first email he ever sent, in November 2001, was an apology for “a string of injustices, including sexual abuse, committed by Roman Catholic clergy in the Pacific nations,” the BBC reported.

Before that, John Paul II offered his atonement for a number of the church’s sins. In the 1980s and 1990s, while visiting countries in Africa, he “consistently apologized for the church’s role in the slave trade,” the Associated Press reported.

He also wrote a sweeping apology to women, who “have often been relegated to the margins of society and even reduced to servitude,” he said, blaming “cultural conditioning” and some “members of the Church.”

The church also formally apologized during his papacy for failing to take more decisive action during World War II to stop the extermination of more than 6 million Jews, The Washington Post reported.

Complete Article HERE!

The spotlight shifts in the clergy sex abuse scandal

By the

For too long, the Catholic Church ignored and even hid the problem of sexual abuse by its clergy. Pope Francis, to his credit, has instituted reforms that are more far-reaching than his predecessors’. But a disturbing article in The Post by Chico Harlan and Alain Uaykani suggests that the church still has a long way to go in protecting children from predatory clerics and the bishops who enable them — particularly in less developed countries, far from the glare of effective judiciaries and unstinting journalism. There, as the authors write, “the scale of abuse remains both a mystery and a cause for trepidation.”

In one case they describe, a teenage nun-in-training said she had been raped by a priest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, an incident that resulted in no serious discipline for the accused assailant owing to what an array of sources described to an elaborate coverup orchestrated by the local bishop, Nicolas Djomo. In the end, a so-called investigation, conducted under the bishop’s auspices and presented to the Vatican, concluded that the allegation was unsubstantiated. The investigators, incredibly, did not even bother to interview the young girl who said she had been raped.

The details of the allegation are chilling, but no less chilling than the successful efforts to sweep it under the rug and ensure that no real accountability was possible, according to The Post’s detailed reporting. In that respect, the pattern of impunity as practiced by the Catholic hierarchy, once so well entrenched in wealthy countries in North America and Europe before the Vatican’s reforms, seems little changed or improved in developing countries where the church remains all but untouchable — and often settles allegations of abuse by means of private payoffs.

Chief among the structural problems is the role played by bishops in so many aspects of church governance, including investigating and disciplining abusive priests. The reforms established by Francis leave accountability almost exclusively in the hands of bishops, who report directly to the pope. Oversight, to the extent it exists, rests in the hands of more senior, or metropolitan bishops, generally based in major urban areas.

That oversight has been exercised only sparingly in Western countries, and scarcely at all in developing nations, where the church is often beyond the law’s meager reach. Unchecked, bishops in those countries generally function as detectives, judges and juries in their dioceses — the same ineffective structure that allowed sexual predation to flourish elsewhere for decades.

In the absence of an effective mechanism to investigate abuse and protect victims, the Vatican must rethink its approach. If that involves establishing its own structure, in Rome, to intervene in fact-finding and discipline where no other credible means exist, then so be it. Without such further reforms, there will be no end to a scandal that has caused the Catholic Church such disrepute, cost it untold billions of dollars, and left so many innocent victims in its wake.

Complete Article HERE!

Another pope’s apology isn’t enough when Catholic Church’s cover-ups and hypocrisy continue to this day

As Francis visits Canada, we need to ask: have churches and governments created conditions allowing clergy to continue their sexual abuse of children?

By Pamela Palmater

The truth is, there have been many apologies issued by many popes.

But as Pope Francis’s visit to Canada begins this weekend, the question to be asked is whether these men have taken substantive actions to end the abuse in which the church they lead has been complicit.

The Catholic Church and its officials have directed, authorized, counselled and/or were complicit in the horrific physical and sexual abuse of children; subjugation, vilification and violence against women; and the deaths of millions of Indigenous peoples in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South America and the African continent. According to recent inquiries, that abuse has continued into the present.

For some First Nation, Inuit and Métis survivors, this papal visit to Canada that begins this weekend in Alberta is an important part of their healing journey. For others, the Pope is the last person they want on their territories, as he represents a religious organization that has caused much misery around the world.

In 2017, Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse found that from 1950 into the 1980s, 4,445 victims were sexually abused in a Catholic setting, but not all victims were recorded before 1950. It found that the cover-up of sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests and brothers was systemic — a matter of church policy — and abusers were neither reported to the police nor expelled.

Last year, an independent inquiry concluded that there have been more than 216,000 victims of sexual abuse by French Catholic clergy between 1950 and 2020. The church was found to have turned a blind eye to the abuse perpetrated by 3,000 priests and other people involved in the church. The evidence showed that the church was more concerned about protecting its image than preventing the abuse from continuing. Like the situation in Australia, the church did not hold abusers to account. To make matters worse, in some countries, those sexual predators have been left to continue the abuse.

An investigation by The Associated Press in 2019 found that nearly 1,700 priests and other clergy members that the Roman Catholic Church itself considers “credibly accused of child sexual abuse” live under the radar with easy access to children. The investigation revealed that these men are employed as teachers, counsellors, juvenile detention officers, nurses and foster parents, or work in family shelters and even Disney World — roles that keep them disturbingly close to children.

They easily pass fingerprint tests and/or criminal record checks (since they were never prosecuted); not surprisingly, a large number have gone on to commit additional sexual assaults. The fact that the church never held them to account for child sexual abuse is bad enough, but the subsequent cover-up and failure to monitor them now has put countless American children at risk.

The question needs to be asked here in Canada: have churches and governments created the conditions allowing Catholic clergy to continue their sexual abuse of children?

In 2016, the federal government spent over $1.5 million to hire 17 private investigators to identify those believed to have committed sexual abuse at residential schools. More than 5,300 perpetrators were identified, but not for the purposes of criminal prosecution. Instead, they were invited to participate in the hearings related to compensation, but not surprisingly, the vast majority did not accept the invitation.

Of the more than 5,000 sexual predators who abused the majority of 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children in residential schools, a mere fraction have ever faced criminal charges. Fewer than 50 have been convicted; and of those, most spent only months in prison. It begs the question: where are they now — and how many more children have they abused because neither the churches nor law enforcement saw fit to protect children from known sex offenders?

The pomp and circumstance surrounding the Pope’s visit has overshadowed these important questions.

It would be wrong to assume that the legacy of Indian residential schools is about historic or past abuses. There were many horrific abuses in those schools, from medical experimentation and torture to severe beatings and deaths. The many unmarked graves being identified across the country are evidence that the extent of the crimes is far worse than has been reported.

The failure to hold the perpetrators to account — then and now — created an opportunity for the abuse to continue into the present, just as it has in other countries. While not all survivors want criminal prosecutions, some do. But the passage of time permitted by the church and government will have clearly prejudiced their cases. Had Canada created a special prosecution team when they first knew about the abuses, things may have been different — but maybe not, given the change of tactics by the church in other parts of the world.

Churches can now be covered by “church abuse and molestation” liability insurance, which means that any litigation or claims against the church for abuse may well have to face a team of aggressive insurance lawyers. In some areas, the Catholic Church has adopted more aggressive litigation tactics like hiring private detectives to dig up dirt on claimants; engaging large, powerful law firms; fighting to keep documents secret; and/or filing countersuits against parents.

In one case, the Diocese of Honolulu countersued a mother, claiming she failed to protect her children from abusive priests. These actions are clearly meant to dissuade others from bringing forward criminal or civil cases. One Roman Catholic cardinal called out the church for concealing, manipulating and/or destroying documents in an effort to cover up sexual abuse.

In addition to the Catholic Church not sharing all documents related to Indian residential schools in Canada, the federal government destroyed 15 tons of paper documents related to the residential school system between 1936 and 1944. St. Anne’s residential school survivors are still battling Canada in court for the release of documents that detail the abuse they suffered in Fort Albany, Ont.

All of these actions — from hiding documents to failing to prosecute sex offenders — betray government- and church-stated commitments to reconciliation. If either institution wants to engage in substantive reconciliation, it must listen to the survivors, the families and community leaders who have made demands that go beyond carefully worded apologies. There have been many diverse Indigenous voices calling for substantive action in addition to an apology. I believe that all of these actions should be implemented, including, but not limited to the following:

  • Government and the Catholic Church must take whatever means necessary to stop ongoing sexual abuse of children and take urgent steps to prevent it in the future;
  • Governments and the church must hold known sexual predators to account;
  • Governments and the church must contribute whatever funding is necessary to identify the children in unmarked graves across Canada, and support communities to bring them home and/or memorialize them;
  • All documents related to any aspect of Indian residential schools, day schools and other church activities impacting Indigenous peoples must be released by governments and the church;
  • Stop fighting St. Anne’s residential school survivors in court;
  • The church must finally pay its agreed-upon compensation and any additional compensation needed to make full reparations for its crimes and cover-ups related to Indigenous peoples;
  • All 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to be implemented without further delay;
  • Return lands held by the Catholic Church back to First Nations who desire their return;
  • Immediately rescind, repeal or withdraw the Doctrine of Discovery (by whatever legal means necessary to give it effect);
  • Canada should appoint a special prosecutor to bring sexual offenders to justice in a way that does not retraumatize survivors, families and communities;
  • There should be an independent review of the actions of the church in relation to sexual abuse in Indian residential schools; and
  • Ensure that known abusers are listed and not permitted to work near children.

Understanding that survivors will each have their own vision of reconciliation, for many, anything less than an apology that includes an unqualified admission of the crimes committed, a full acceptance of responsibility, and a commitment to end the abuse and make full reparations will be just another empty apology and continuing injustice for First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

Complete Article HERE!