A delegation of Inuit hoping for his extradition will travel to France next week to seek justice

An extradition request from Canada for Father Johannes Rivoire, 92, suspected of sexual assault on young Inuit between 1968 and 1970, has put his French congregation in an awkward situation: forced to “assume” this cumbersome legacy, it vigorously refutes having “covered it up.”

In the living room with its old-fashioned armchairs of a house in Lyon (southeast of France), which houses the French headquarters of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), the provincial Vincent Gruber, who serves as the national leader, readily admits that the Rivoire affair is a poisoned package.

The subject is at the heart of the next visit of a delegation of Inuits who will travel from September 12 to 15 to Paris and Lyon in the hope of obtaining justice.

In Canada’s far north, the case is seen by many as a symbol of impunity for sexual abusers within the Catholic Church, especially since Pope Francis’ recent “penitential pilgrimage” to Canada focused on residential school abuse.

The nonagenarian, who lives in a retirement home in Lyon, has never been worried. He is the target of an extradition request filed in early August by Ottawa, but he denies all the accusations.

The order, which has 3,700 missionaries worldwide, including 87 in France, says it was only informed in 2013 of the existence of the first arrest warrant issued against him… in 1998 in Canada.

Why and how could this congregation not know anything for all these years?

Inexcusable dysfunctions

“It is incomprehensible, senseless… There were inexcusable dysfunctions. We did not have any documents from the Oblates in Canada. The French government did not try to inform the Oblates in France either. Unless someone knew about it and didn’t say so…” Mr. Gruber assured AFP.

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“This creates the situation of today, with time running out and victims facing the void. Everything should have been settled since 1998!” laments the official, in office since 2014.

Gruber knows that this “situation” exposes his congregation to criticism.

The Order “protected” Father Rivoire too much, “those who had to know knew that serious questions were being asked about him,” says Mr. Devaux, whom the Inuits contacted to prepare their visit. And he says: “Nobody asked the question about his arrival in Lyon in 1993 in a hurry”, at the time when two first complaints were filed against him.

In a recent e-mail to Mr. Gruber, of which AFP has a copy, Kilikvak Kabloona, an Inuit representative, assures us that in 1993 the bishop of the Churchill-Hudson Bay diocese, to which Johannes Rivoire belonged, was informed of these complaints. And that “shortly after” the missionary fled “with only a backpack, probably under the instructions” of the bishop, “to avoid any negative publicity” for the Oblates.

“I know that people in the Church have hidden, covered up, exfiltrated” perpetrators of sexual crimes, “but, whether we are believed or not, we have never done that!” pleads Gruber.

In 1993, after 33 years in the field, Father Rivoire left the Great North for Lyon, officially to take care of his parents temporarily. He never returned.

He joined the site of Notre-Dame-des-Lumières (southeastern France) from 1993 to 2015, and “mainly did gardening” there, according to Gruber. But this shrine had to close and here he was transferred to Strasbourg (northeast) in 2015, in a “senior house” managed by the OMI.

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Radar

He was placed “under surveillance” when the Oblates learned that he was wanted: “He remains on our radar,” Mr. Gruber assured them, and a report was made to the Strasbourg public prosecutor’s office.

The religious returned to Lyon in 2021 for reasons of health and personal convenience.

“We can’t tie him up and put him on the plane!”, says Mr. Gruber, assuring that he has repeatedly urged him to “go face justice in Canada”.

Father Rivoire “vigorously contests the facts” and believes that he “is not accountable to anyone,” according to his lawyer, Thierry Dumoulin. He refused to meet with the delegation of Inuit, including one of his alleged victims.

Father Gruber, for his part, will receive the group on September 14: “We believe what the Inuit tell us” and that’s what we’ll tell them.