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Catholic priest in Winnipeg accuses residential school survivors of lying about abuse to get money

·4 min read

A Manitoba MLA whose own uncle endured horrible abuse in a residential school says she wants to see a local priest completely removed from the Catholic Church after a video surfaced of him stating many residential school survivors had positive experiences, and claiming some survivors have lied about sexual abuse to get money from the government.

“It’s absolutely disgusting, I am the granddaughter of residential school survivors, I am the niece of an uncle who got one of the largest settlements in Canada, and that settlement is reflective of the horrible abuse he suffered, not lies,” a frustrated NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine said on Thursday.

“And that impacted his life, and the life of his children, and all of us in our family.”

In a July 10 sermon that was posted online by St. Emile Catholic Church, Father Rhéal Forest claimed that many residential school survivors had positive experiences in the schools, and that some have made up stories of sexual abuse as a way to get settlement money from the federal government.

Forest, who was preaching at the St. Vital church while the church’s permanent priest was away on vacation, also claimed that he worked up north for 22 years, and had met several Indigenous people who said their residential school experiences were positive.

The video has since been removed, and Forest has been prohibited by the archdiocese and Archbishop Albert LeGatt from preaching or teaching publicly.

But Fontaine said at this point the only acceptable response would be for Forest to lose his priesthood.

“How have they not removed him, and how is he still able to be a priest? she asked. “He hasn’t been removed, I’m sure he is still getting paid, and mark my words he will just be moved around and move somewhere else.

“There has to be a public apology, and he has to be removed.”

Fontaine added that Forest had reached out recently to set up a meeting with her about the video, but Fontaine eventually cancelled the meeting because of the fact she said the church tried to “dictate” the terms of the meeting they had asked for.

“They put so many conditions on it that I finally just said ‘no you are not going to dictate this,’” Fontaine said. “You’re making me jump through hoops for a meeting you requested, and I’m not doing this meeting anymore.”

She said the priest’s comments are another example of “revisionist history” by many who want to justify the residential school system.

“Some in the church will do whatever they have to do to justify that history, and minimize the sexual abuse of children, and come up with made-up facts that most children liked residential school.”

“That’s all revisionist history and under the colonial ideology that the Indian needed to be saved from itself, and in 2021 for a priest to be exposing lies and racism is unacceptable.”

On Thursday Manitoba Metis Federation President David Chartrand also responded to Forest’s comments in an interview with the Winnipeg Sun, and he didn’t mince words saying the priest needed to be removed completely from any association with the Catholic Church.

“It’s time for him to put his robe away, it’s time for him to leave, and there is no counselling that can help a man at that point of his life,” Chartrand said.

“It is beyond me that you can repair this damage. He needs to be removed and completely sanctioned from ever returning again.”

Chartrand added he now feels for the tens of thousands of Indigenous people who experienced abuse in residential schools, and are now having their words and their intentions questioned.

“There is no way you can repair that vicious attack against victims,” Chartrand said. “I am having a hard time finding the right word for this.

“It’s unforgivable.”

On Thursday afternoon archdiocese and Archbishop Albert LeGatt released a video statement responding to Forest’s sermon and disavowing his comments, and the church said the video statement would be his official statement to the media.

“I completely disavow them, and disavow this way of thinking, the attitude, and all that is behind those words,” LeGatt said.

“I am not just sorry, or regret or wish he hadn’t used those words. I wish to say very, very clearly, and I hope more and more people will come to that place, I completely disavow that kind of thinking and I’m going to say it, that kind of racism.”

In the video, LeGatt said that despite what has happened Forest is “still a priest.”

“He is still a priest, he can celebrate mass, of course, he’s a priest, but I completely disavow the attitude and I would say the culture behind those words.”

There are more than 38,000 personal accounts of sexual and serious physical abuse that took place at federal residential schools in Canada according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report. (TRC) and many stories of abuse are documented in the report.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun

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