A Catholic priest in Winnipeg, Manitoba, publicly accused residential school survivors of lying about the sexual abuses they experienced so that they’d get more money from settlements.
"If they wanted extra money, from the money that was given to them, they had to lie sometimes—lie that they were abused sexually and, oop, another $50,000," Father Rhéal Forest said during a July 10 mass, as first reported by CBC News. A recording of the mass was posted on the church’s Facebook page, and CBC News shared the video on its site.
Forest—who was visiting St. Emile parish because the regular pastor, Father Gerry Sembrano, was on vacation—also spread false information about the residential school system and made jokes about shooting those responsible for vandalizing churches today, CBC News reported.
He falsely said most Indigenous people he has met liked residential schools. He also blamed the media for spreading falsehoods about the residential school system.
“This is the evil, the evil of media. Media makes people believe so many things. Fake news,” Foster said.
In another mass, on July 18, Forest talked about the recent spate of church vandalism. He said he saw a nearby church that had graffiti splayed over it with the words “Save the children,” CBC reported.
"As I'm passing by, thoughts of anger. If I had a shotgun at night and I'd see them, I'd go, 'Boom!' just to scare them and if they don't run away, I'll shoot them," Forest said. He then quickly backtracked, saying: "But this would not help. it's bad to do that; I'd go have a chat with them."
Daniel Bahuaud, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Saint Boniface, in Manitoba, and the archbishop, told CBC News the videos have been removed from Facebook and Forest has been banned from publicly preaching and teaching.
"We very much regret the pain they may have caused to many people, not least of course Indigenous people and, more specifically, survivors of the residential school system," Bahuaud said, adding Archbishop Albert LeGatt will determine additional punishment.
Bahuaud said the archdiocese “completely disavows” the comment Forest made.
The residential school system was funded by the Canadian government and operated by churches to forcibly assimilate an estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children. Physical and sexual abuses were widespread and are well-documented. The last school only closed its doors in the mid-1990s and the traumatic effects of the residential school system continue to be felt by many.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated Canada’s horrific residential school system and its ongoing legacy, churches have always known of sexual and physical abuses carried out at residential schools.
“From the nineteenth century onwards, the government and churches were well aware of the risk that staff might sexually abuse residential school students,” the TRC says.
In one example, “as early as 1886, Jean L’Heureux, who worked as a translator for Indian Affairs and a recruiter for Roman Catholic schools in Alberta, was accused of sexually abusing boys in his care,” the TRC says. “The officials responsible for the schools recognized that his actions were not appropriate. Despite this, there is no record of a criminal investigation being carried out at the time.”
Residential schools survivors who suffered abuse were eligible for compensation in Canada as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The TRC estimates that 48 percent of eligible former students applied for it, but that figure doesn’t account for survivors who died before May 2005. Nearly 40,000 claims of abuse were filed and, by 2014, most of those were recognized, with about $2.7 billion paid out to survivors who were abused.
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation recently confirmed 200 unmarked graves at the former Catholic-run Kamloops Indian Residential School site. More than 1,000 additional unmarked graves have been discovered at former residential schools across the country since, and thousands more are expected. These numbers are in addition to the more than 4,100 residential school deaths previously identified by the TRC.
While the Anglican, United, and Presbyterian churches have apologized for their roles in residential schools, the Catholic Church has not. Since May, the Church has been in the news several times for a series of missteps related to the residential school system's legacy.
Priests have spread falsehoods about residential schools or downplayed their impacts, while others have remained quiet on the matter. Pope Francis rejected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s personal request to apologize back in 2017, and this year, he expressed his “sorrow” for survivors, but stopped short of saying sorry.
Anyone experiencing distress or pain as a result of residential schools can call the Indian Residential School Survivors Society Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419). It’s available 24/7.
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