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!

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!

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

Pope Francis waves as he leads the Angelus prayer from his window, at the Vatican July 17, 2022.


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.

Complete Article HERE!

Residential School Justice Requires More Than Jail Sentences

Marieval Indian Residential School

By James Murray

After an 11-year investigation into abuse at the Fort Alexander residential school, RCMP charged a retired priest on Friday for the sexual assault of a 10-year-old girl.

The charge against Arthur Masse was hardly a surprise. You don’t have to travel far to hear from survivors who live mostly in Sagkeeng First Nation that conditions at the school were horrific, abuse was rampant and that predators were everywhere.

The only surprise for most of us is that a charge happened at all.

For decades, victims of abuse have told strikingly similar stories about life at Fort Alexander residential school, which was run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate until 1970.

Survivors have shared with their families, clergy, political leaders and police about what they have experienced. Some have even published books, like author Theodore Fontaine, or appeared on the nightly news, like Phil Fontaine did in 1990.

In 2010, when documents corroborating accounts of the abuse came to light, Manitoba RCMP opened up an investigation.

Eleven years, 700 interviews, 80 investigators, and 75 witness and victim statements later, a single charge was announced.

A single charge.

“The question may be asked: Why, with all this work, was there one charge laid and not many?” RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Paul Manaigre told media on Friday. “Unfortunately, due to the passage of time, many of the victims are not able to participate in the investigation, whether that be for mental or physical health reasons, or because the victim is now deceased.”

A far more likely truth is that “authorities” don’t believe survivors.

I know this first hand.

My grandfather experienced brutal abuse at Fort Alexander.

One day, while working in the field, he couldn’t lift a pail of water. When he started crying, the priest beat him so badly in the head he lost much of his hearing on one side.

He was six.

In the basement of the school was a room students who were forced to sit silently for hours on threat of violence or work in dangerous conditions with scalding water in the laundry room.

If anyone acted out — or sometimes for little reason at all — beatings with the “lash” were a regular occurrence, and would take place for all to see.

My uncle Elmer, my grandfather’s older brother who attended alongside him, told our family that some nights boys who had been lashed would cry all night in bed from the pain.

“I often wondered how men and women who professed to be Christians and were serving in religious orders could be so mean and cruel. Their sole purpose seemed to be to break our spirits,” he said.

Then, my uncle said something else about Fort Alexander residential school I’ll never forget.

“I don’t remember ever hearing a kind word during my three-year stay in the school,” he said. “I suppose being brought up in such a cruel and loveless environment affected our later lives.”

This raises the toughest reality to discuss about Fort Alexander residential school: the sexual abuse.

My grandfather experienced it there too, leading to decades of self-harm, alcoholism and his abuse (physically, not sexually) of his own children.

I share these horrific details not because I want to, but because I have to.

It’s a story our family carries.

To change cycles and patterns of violence, I must face this horrific legacy from my life.

This is why survivors should guide our next move.

In this case, the alleged perpetrator is almost finished his life. If found guilty, and if the family of the survivor wants him to go to jail, we should not argue with them.

Most survivors, however, do not want “justice” in the form of jail time but reconciliation for their families, communities and future generations.

The justice system, both provincially and nationally, is sorely inadequate in this regard.

It is not enough to simply charge an old man, but rather to help heal the thousands of lives damaged by the institutions that hired, protected and ignored the stories for decades.

This means Indigenous-led health supports, particularly for abuse survivors and their families. It means language revitalization programs. It means restoring and recognizing Indigenous governments on their own terms.

And not doubting survivors when they share their stories.

It shouldn’t take millions of dollars and hours of work to legitimize dozens of similar accounts, but apparently it does if you’re Indigenous.

Let’s change that.

Complete Article HERE!

Manitoba RCMP charge 92-year-old priest in residential school case

Manitobans honour the lives of 215 children found buried at former B.C. residential school on May 31, 2021.

By The Canadian Press

Manitoba RCMP say a 92-year-old priest has been charged after a decade-long investigation into the Fort Alexander Residential School northeast of Winnipeg.

Arthur Masse was charged with one count of indecent assault on a 10-year-old girl who was a student at the school, RCMP said Friday. The alleged offence took place between 1968 and 1970.

Chief Derrick Henderson said the arrest has opened old wounds.

“People were talking about this for many years. Did society believe them?” Henderson said.

“That’s what is always the most difficult thing.”

Mounties have said that officers with the major crime unit began looking into the residential school in 2010 and a criminal investigation began the following year.

The residential school of Fort Alexander and surrounding buildings and houses are shown in this handout image provided by the archives of the Société historique de Saint-Boniface. The province confirmed Thursday a person was charged with one count of indecent assault on a female related to the investigation into the former Fort Alexander Residential School northeast of Winnipeg.

The school was opened in 1905 in the community of Fort Alexander, which later became the Sagkeeng First Nation.

The school closed in 1970.

Police said more than 80 RCMP investigators reviewed archived records of the school, including student and employee lists, and spoke to or interacted with more than 700 people across North America. In total, 75 witness and victim statements were obtained by police.

“The size and scope of this investigation has meant many years of investigative work,” said Sgt. Paul Manaigre, Media Relations Officer with the Manitoba RCMP. “While we have certainly had the steps involved in a police investigation top of mind throughout the whole process, we have also been very aware of the affect our investigation was having on the community. The emotional trauma experienced by victims of abuse is very real, and despite the years that intervened between the alleged occurrences and when police were investigating, that trauma is still present.”

Manitoba RCMP say this is the only investigation into residential schools underway and with this charge, the investigation is concluded.

“Unfortunately, due to the passage of time, many of the victims were not able to participate in the investigation, whether that be for mental or physical health reasons or because the victim is now deceased,” said Manaigre.

The Southern Chiefs’ Organization called on law enforcement to investigate and reinvestigate all claims around residential schools.

Masse was part of the Catholic religious order called the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Rev. Ken Thorson of the OMI Lacombe Canada said the Oblates condemn all instances of sexual abuse and are “deeply sorry” to any survivors who were harmed.

Thorson said in an email that the order is committed to participating in the investigation and will co-operate fully in legal proceedings.

Information compiled by the Societe historique de Saint-Boniface, an archive in Manitoba, said Masse was born in Ferland, Sask., in 1929. His first post was at the Fort Frances residential school in northern Ontario where he stayed until 1957. He later returned to that school in 1970 and oversaw the student residence until it closed four years later.

Masse worked at a number of other schools during his time away from Fort Frances.

Arthur Masse
92-year-old retired priest, Arthur Masse, has been charged with one count of indecent assault in relation to a 10-year-old girl who was a student at the Fort Alexander Residential School in Manitoba.

Minegoziibe Anishinabe First Nation Chief Derek Nepinak said Masse also spent time at the Pine Creek Residential School northwest of Winnipeg and was “notorious” there.

The Fort Alexander school also had a reputation for severe abuse.

Survivors told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about starvation, sexual abuse and harsh discipline. Children from nearly two dozen First Nations attended the school for about 10 months of the year.

Sagkeeng First Nation recently discovered 190 anomalies during a search near the school using ground-penetrating radar.

Initial data shows the irregularities fit some of the criteria for graves, but the community leadership has said more information is needed.

Henderson said he was taken aback when he learned of the arrest Thursday. He remembered the retired priest attending hockey games and other community events.

He said while reliving pain has been difficult, it is important for the truth to come out.

“This is another step in that story, another chapter in that story of the abuse in residential schools.”

Complete Article HERE!