by Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – Mounties have pressed a new charge against an Oblate priest living in France who faces multiple allegations sexual abuse from when he lived in Nunavut.
The RCMP issued a Canada-wide warrant for Johannes Rivoire, who resides in Lyon and is in his 90s, on March 28, The Canadian Press reports.
Nunavut RCMP said officers received complaints last year for repeated instances of sexual abuse that are alleged to have occurred 47 years ago, leading to him being charged with sexual assault a month ago.
The warrant was issued a day after Inuit leaders met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Monday, where they asked for His Holiness’s intervention in the case.
Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, told CP he asked the Pope to urge Rivoire to return to Canada to face the charges and to ask France to intervene in the event Rivoire refuses.
The fugitive priest lived in Canada from the early-1960s to 1993, when he returned to France.
The first warrant for his arrest was issued in 1998 for three charges of sexual abuse related to his work in the communities of Arviat, Rankin Inlet and Naujaat, but those charges were stayed in 2019.
“That is so sick,” Theresie Tungilik, whose younger brother Marius was one of Rivoire’s alleged victims, told the CBC at the time. “I think that they are heartless to be able to do this.”
The Public Prosecution Service of Canada said it dropped the charges because France refuses to extradite its citizens.
Inuit leaders and sympathetic politicians’ calls for Rivoire to return to Canada to face the charges against him have picked up momentum since the uncovery of unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools in the past year.
Bishop William McGrattan, vice-president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CP that the Church needs to address Rivoire’s case in an upfront way.
“The church wants to work with the relevant justice authorities, whether they be international or Canadian,” he said.
“And if there are allegations that someone has committed these abuse, that they need to be brought to justice and the church should not stand in their way but assist those who have been victims to seek justice and healing.”
Piita Irniq, a former commissioner of Nunavut and past territorial politician, told the Globe and Mail that the new charge against Rivoire will hopefully facilitate the healing process for his victims.
Irniq said it’s crucial for Rivoire to be extradited so he can see his victims up close.
In a December 2021 interview with the French newspaper La Monde, Rivoire denied the allegations against him, insisting that he left Canada to take care of his ailing parents and not to evade justice, the Globe reported.
Robert Currie, a Dalhousie University law professor, told The Globe that the Vatican is the only entity that can force Rivoire to return to Canada, as the French authorities are unlikely to do so.
“The Pope can tell any priest or bishop to do whatever the Pope wants them to do, and they have to do it,” Currie said.