Inuit leader asks Pope Francis to personally intervene in case of priest accused of sexual assault

The head of the Inuit delegation meeting privately with Pope Francis on Monday is asking the pontiff to personally intervene in the case of an Oblate priest accused of sexually abusing children in Nunavut.

Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), named Father Johannes Rivoire in his discussion with the pope, according to remarks prepared for the meeting. Rivoire was never tried on charges in Canada because he returned to France, which does not extradite French nationals.

“I would ask you, as head of the Catholic Church, to speak to Johannes Rivoire and order him to return to Canada to stand trial for the wrongs he has caused,” Obed told the pope.

“I understand that this action may fail, for many reasons. In this case, I would ask you to use your influence with the competent authorities in France to have Rivoire extradited to Canada or tried in France.”

Ahead of the meeting, Obed told CBC News that among all the demands he planned to make — including asking for a papal apology for residential schools, appealing to the church to pay reparations to survivors, and disclosure of all residential school documents – this one could have the most impact.

“We would like these victims to see some semblance of justice and for the families of deceased victims to see some level of accountability as well,” he said.

Obed said he believed Pope Francis could play a personal role in justice.

“If he took the time to tell Father Rivoire to go to Canada, maybe it would succeed like no other body could,” Obed said.

“He has a unique place right now to help the Inuit and I hope he chooses to do that.”

“The cost of inaction”

Rivoire spent time in several Nunavut communities beginning in the 1960s, but returned to France in 1993. The RCMP issued an arrest warrant for Rivoire in 1998.

In a 2017 assessment, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada concluded that “there was no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction on the charges” and that “continuation of prosecution was no longer in the public interest”. .

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed, who heads the national body representing Inuit, said he believed Pope Francis could play a personal role in bringing justice to Rivoire’s victims. (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

Rivoire’s arrest warrant was canceled in 2018 following the decision to suspend the charges. France’s failure to extradite its citizens appears to have been a key factor in the decision.

Last year, Justice Minister David Lametti said he could not resuscitate the stayed charges, but said “it is always possible that further evidence will be presented by other complainants or other witnesses”.

Obed told CBC News he spoke to Lametti’s office, which he said is committed to supporting any possible means for Rivoire to stand trial.

“There is a cost to inaction,” Obed said.