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Winnipeg Catholic church cancels mass after ‘angry’ comments made against it online

The Archdiocese of Saint Boniface says it decided to cancel mass at St. Emile Catholic Church in Winnipeg after police warned "angry" comments were made against the church on social media. Matt Purchase / Global News

A Winnipeg Catholic church cancelled mass scheduled for Sunday after concerning remarks were made against it online.

St. Emile Catholic Church became the focus of controversy after a fill-in priest, Father Rheal Forest, made comments during services suggesting residential school survivors lied to get settlement money.

Archbishop Albert LeGatt of the Archdiocese of Saint Boniface later disavowed the remarks and asked for forgiveness.

“The police contacted the parish because the police was (sic) monitoring social media and they noticed that there were apparently comments on the angry side or on the disappointed side regarding Father Rheal Forest’s very troubling remarks,” Daniel Bahuaud, communications coordinator for the Archdiocese, told Global News Sunday.

“But the police were clear with us there have been no threats, so (cancelling mass) was merely a precaution.”

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Bahuaud added similar comments have been made on the parish’s Facebook page, and the church office has received phone calls “expressing disappointment.”

Read more: Archdiocese apologizes after Winnipeg priest accuses residential school survivors of lying

He says the decision to cancel mass is likely a one-time move, but church leadership will be deciding how to proceed throughout the week.

“I think we understand at the archdiocese that people could express very strong disappointment, disagreement, with Father Rheal Forest’s remarks, which Bishop LeGatt and the archdiocese have already completely disavowed, and we can understand anger,” Bahuaud said.

“What we hope is that people will also understand … that the archdiocese is advocating truth and reconciliation, and we want to move forward with that with Indigenous communities in our diocese, but in all Indigenous people and all Canadians.”

Forest’s comments were made during a handful of masses which were broadcast on the church’s Facebook page. They were later deleted.

“His words have deeply, deeply hurt people,” Archbishop LeGatt said in a video posted to social media Thursday.

“I and, I hope, more and more people will come to that place of completely disavowing that kind of thinking … that kind of racism.”

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The archdiocese has since barred Forest from preaching publicly.

With files from Kelly Malone

The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.

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