Canadian Inuit and Métis leaders met cardinals, Vatican officials to pursue justice

From left to right: First Nations N.W.T. Regional Chief and Dene National Chief Gerald Antoine, President of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami Natan Obed and Métis National Council Cassidy Caron walk through St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican after their final meeting with Pope Francis on April 1. (Alessandra Tarantino/AP)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Métis and Inuit leaders, who met the Pope at the Vatican last week, return home with a lot of work ahead to move reconciliation and justice forward with the Roman Catholic Church, especially in preparation for a papal visit to Canada that could happen as early as July.

On Friday, Pope Francis apologized to Indigenous people for the “deplorable” conduct of some members of the Catholic Church involved in the residential school system in Canada.

Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said he will also be following up with church officials after receiving a commitment they will work with him on the case of a fugitive Oblates priest accused of sexually assaulting children in Nunavut.

CBC News learned from Nunavut RCMP last week that Father Johannes Rivoire, 93, was charged on Feb. 23 with sexual assault and is facing a new Canada-wide arrest warrant.

“One would hope that the Catholic Church would be on the side of justice and, so far, they have been very clear about their intent to work with us,” Obed said.

WATCH | Indigenous delegates react to the Pope’s initial residential school apology:

In order: Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron, Dene Nation Delegation Lead Chief Gerald Antoine and Phil Fontaine, the former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, share their reactions to Pope Francis’s apology for the conduct of some members of the Catholic Church in Canada’s residential school system. 3:35

Rivoire has not been arrested because he lives in Lyon, France — a country that does not extradite its nationals.

The Public Prosecution Service of Canada said Rivoire allegedly committed an indecent assault against a female between Jan. 1, 1974, and Dec. 31, 1979.

A publication ban is in place to protect the identity of the complainant.

During the Inuit delegation’s private meeting with Pope Francis last Monday, Obed asked the pontiff to personally intervene in the case and speak to Rivoire directly to encourage him to come to Canada to face charges.

“I would imagine that this is an extraordinary request of the Pope, but that was the entire point of the request,” Obed said.

“The Pope is someone who has extraordinary powers above and beyond the powers that we have tried to work with over time on this case, and that is why we asked him directly.”

Priest rejected Oblates’ request to return to Canada

Obed met with Louis Lougen, superior general of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, in Rome last Thursday for an hour.

Obed said Lougen told him he personally spoke to Rivoire previously about facing justice in Canada.

“Johannes Rivoire had refused to abide by his direction to return to Canada and face charges, and [Lougen said he] would continue to work with all the relevant authorities, governments and Inuit organizations to pursue justice in this case,” Obed said.

If the Pope speaks to Rivoire and the latter rejects his request to come back to Canada, Obed said the Pope could work with the French government to make sure he is extradited, or have him tried in France.

A 1979 photo of Father Johannes Rivoire in Arviat, Nunavut. (Library and Archives Canada)

Obed also spoke last week to the Cardinal Secretary of State of Vatican City, Pietro Parolin, who said he would work on the issue and follow up with the ITK.

Up until this point, Obed said many in the church have been reticent to divulge details about where Rivoire is and to help get justice.

Although he didn’t get a timeline from Parolin, Obed says he’s pleased to work with members of the church.

Métis leader asks Vatican for annual meetings

Obed isn’t sure where the relationship with the church will go, but he and Cassidy Caron, the president of the Métis National Council (MNC), say last week’s meetings are the first step in transforming the relationship with the Roman Catholic Church.

Caron also met with Lougen and Parolin, along with several other cardinals during her time leading the Métis delegation in Rome.

During her meeting with Parolin last Thursday at the Apostolic Palace, Caron asked for an annual meeting between the Métis, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican.

“[The Vatican is] a nation-state and we are a nation, so we need to be meeting on a nation-to-nation basis,” Caron said. “I think that they are going to consider it.”

Caron said her meeting with Lougen, the head of the Oblates, also went well.

MNC wants to send an archivist to the Oblate General Archives in Rome, which the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation is getting access to next month.

Cassidy Caron, who led the Métis delegation in Rome as Métis National Council president, is proposing annual meetings between the Métis, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Caron met with Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who used to be the archbishop of Quebec when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was taking place, to walk through the areas of truth, reconciliation, healing and justice that MNC wants the Catholic Church to work on.

“It was important that we were able to sit with him, because he meets with Pope Francis once a week for an hour, so he has the opportunity to continue influencing Pope Francis even after we leave,” Caron said.

Relationships ‘built over a 100 cups of tea’

Caron also met briefly with Canadian Cardinal Michael Czerny at an event for the delegates at the Embassy of Canada to the Holy See in Rome.

She requested meetings with Cardinal Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, but both were ill.

Caron said she will be sending follow-ups.

“I do know the influence the individuals have,” Caron said.

“I do think that if the Pope is serious about wanting to move forward with reconciliation and wanting to consider each of the positions put forward by MNC, ITK and AFN [Assembly of First Nations], that he will go to these individuals and have conversations with them.”

Although none of the cardinals said they would speak to the Pope directly about her requests, she feels the trip was successful.

“One of my elders talks about [how] relationships are built over a hundred cups of tea, and that just shows you have to be persistent,” Caron said.

“You have to meet constantly, build those relationships, talk about your priorities, build that common understanding and work together to move forward, and that’s what we’re going to be doing.”

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports. A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Pope Francis apologizes to Canadian Indigenous delegates for ‘deplorable’ abuses at residential schools, CBC News

Finland: Sami Parliament in Finland agrees more time needed for Truth and Reconciliation Commission preparation, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Sami education conference looks at how to better serve Indigenous children, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Sami in Sweden start work on structure of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Eye on the Arctic

United States: Alaska reckons with missing data on murdered Indigenous women, Alaska Public Media

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