Pope Francis could play ‘instrumental role’ seeking justice for abuse survivors: Inuit leader

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WATCH ABOVE: Reflecting on the Pope’s historic residential school apology – Apr 3, 2022

Pope Francis could play an “instrumental role” in the push for justice for Inuit victims and survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of an Oblate priest now living in France, says the head of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

Natan Obed, president of the Inuit advocacy organization, spoke with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson following a visit with the Pope at the Vatican last week.

During the visit, Pope Francis apologized for the Catholic Church’s prominent role in Canada’s residential school system, which he said left him feeling “indignation and shame.”

Obed said while he felt “great respect” for the Pope’s apology, there remains a significant amount of work to do and not all Indigenous people will be in the position to accept the apology.

“For me, I just thought immediately about how long we fought for this particular day, but then also for the challenges that remain and the difficulties that many people are facing today,” Obed said.

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Read more: Pope Francis apologizes for residential schools at Vatican: ‘I ask for God’s forgiveness’

Among those difficulties is the ongoing push to hold Johannes Rivoire, an Oblate priest now in his 90s and living in France, accountable for multiple allegations of sexual abuse stemming from his time in Nunavut between the 1960s and 1993.

A warrant was issued for Rivoire’s arrest in 1998.

He faced at least three charges of sexual abuse in the Nunavut communities of Arviat, Rankin Inlet and Naujaat. More than two decades later, the charges were stayed, which the Public Prosecution Service of Canada has said was partly due to France’s reluctance to extradite.

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Obed said the Inuit community wants Pope Francis to speak personally with Rivoire.

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“We would like to see him extradited from France, and we believe that the Pope can play an instrumental role personally in intervening on this case to see justice done for the victims,” he said.

Calls from Inuit leaders and politicians for Rivoire to stand trial have grown louder in the wake of the discovery of unmarked graves at multiple former residential school sites across Canada.

The RCMP laid a new charge against Rivoire last month for an alleged sexual assault  47 years ago.

Read more: Oblate priest faces sexual abuse charge as Inuit leader calls on Pope for justice

Obed said the Catholic Church has still not paid the $25 million that was part of the residential school settlement agreement with the Canadian government, which is intended as restitution to survivors.

All records held by the Church about residential schools must be made public, he added, and said he hopes Pope Francis will apologize again on Canadian soil.

“Pope Francis joked with us in his private meeting with Inuit about, he would love to come and visit us, but not in the winter,” Obed added.

“We need to be involved in this and provide advice and be allowed to be a participant in the way that this all unfolds so that we can do the best possible job to match the ambition of the Pope with the ability to make the best of that for all of us.”

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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.

– with files from The Canadian Press

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