Updated February 29th, 2024 at 15:12 IST

Catholic Church Refuses to Dismiss Priest Accused of Abusing Inuit Children

The case gained renewed attention in 2021 when Inuk elder Peter Irniq revealed that his friend, Marius Tungilik, was one of Rivoire's alleged victims.

Reported by: Sagar Kar
An Inuit woman holding an image of the "Devil priest". | Image:Justin Tang
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The Catholic Church has opted not to dismiss a French clergyman accused of sexually abusing Inuit children in Canada's north, despite fervent appeals from senior church officials in Canada. Johannes Rivoire, commonly referred to as the "devil priest," faces allegations of sexual assault dating back to his time working in Arctic communities during the 1960s and 70s.

Rivoire, who served as a priest with the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, returned to France in 1993 after his tenure in Canada. Police laid charges against him following accusations of sexual abuse in communities such as Arviat, Rankin Inlet, and Naujaat. However, the charges were stayed, largely due to France's policy of not extraditing its citizens to face charges abroad. Now in his mid-90s, Rivoire remains the subject of a Canada-wide arrest warrant.

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Here is what you need to know

The case gained renewed attention in 2021 when Inuk elder Peter Irniq revealed that his friend, Marius Tungilik, was one of Rivoire's alleged victims. Tungilik, who died by suicide in 2012, struggled with the trauma inflicted by the priest, according to Irniq.

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Efforts to hold Rivoire accountable have faced obstacles. Both the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and OMI Lacombe Canada, along with the Oblates of the Province of France, implored church leadership in Rome to dismiss Rivoire from his congregation. However, as per a report from The Guardian, this plea was rebuffed, with officials citing Rivoire's advanced age and declining health.

Many members of the church are unhappy with Rome's decision 

Father Ken Thorson, leader of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) Lacombe Canada, expressed deep disappointment at the decision from Rome. While a dismissal would not compel Rivoire to return to Canada to face charges, Thorson believed it would have demonstrated the church's commitment to reconciliation and accountability.

In response to the ongoing situation, Canada's justice minister, Arif Virani, stated that the government is collaborating with Interpol and has requested a "red notice" to apprehend Rivoire if he were to leave France.

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The case underscores the challenges of pursuing justice in cases of historical abuse and the complexities surrounding extradition and accountability, particularly within religious institutions.

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Published February 29th, 2024 at 12:02 IST