Manitoba archbishop apologizes after priest accuses residential school survivors of lying about abuse

·2 min read
Archbishop Albert LeGatt of Manitoba’s St. Boniface Catholic diocese says Father Rhéal Forest 'deeply, deeply hurt people' with his recent remarks about residential school survivors.  (Archdiocese of St. Boniface/Facebook - image credit)
Archbishop Albert LeGatt of Manitoba’s St. Boniface Catholic diocese says Father Rhéal Forest 'deeply, deeply hurt people' with his recent remarks about residential school survivors. (Archdiocese of St. Boniface/Facebook - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

The archbishop of Manitoba's St. Boniface Catholic diocese says he completely disavows statements made by a priest which included casting aspersions on the motives of Indigenous people who made residential school claims.

"I'm 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 … come to that place of completely disavowing that kind of thinking," Archbishop Albert LeGatt said in a nearly 11-minute address posted to the diocese's Facebook page on Thursday. "I'm going to say it — that kind of racism."

LeGatt was responding to controversy which erupted Thursday after CBC News published comments made by Father Rhéal Forest during sermons over weeks of services at St. Emile Roman Catholic Church this summer.

The sermons were part of services livestreamed and posted to St. Emile's Facebook page.

In one of them, Forest accused residential school survivors of lying about being sexually abused so they would receive more money during the settlement process with the federal government.

In another, Forest joked about shooting those who wrote graffiti on churches.

"I completely disavow his words and the attitudes, and thinking and approaches behind those words," LeGatt said.

"His words have deeply, deeply hurt people," LeGatt said of Forest, who had been temporarily placed at the parish while its regular pastor was on vacation.

Forest had been withdrawn from preaching and teaching forums, the archdiocese said Thursday.

The videos involving Forest have since been removed.

WATCH | Residential school survivor condemns Forest:

LeGatt said he encouraged all Catholics to go beyond apologizing for what took place at residential schools to asking for forgiveness.

"That's what we're saying to First Nation, Métis and Inuit people," LeGatt said. "Please forgive us."

'How dare he?'

One residential school survivor, however, said Forest's remarks have "broken" efforts at reconciliation.

"His words buried my story again," said Vivian Ketchum, 57, who was physically and sexually abused as a child in the 1970s at the Cecilia Jeffery Indian Residential School in Kenora, Ont.

"He's put it back in the shadows. Reconciliation has taken a step in the dark ages again."

Ketchum said Forest's remarks left her angry and in disbelief. Substantiating a claim for settlement involved extensive interviews and medical reports that went on for months, she said.

"How dare he? I went through hell trying to prove my claim," she said.

The punishment meted out to Forest wasn't enough, Ketchum said, adding she wanted to see Forest defrocked and the church lose its charitable status.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by these reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

Do you know of a child who never came home from residential school? Or someone who worked at one? We would like to hear from you. Email our Indigenous-led team investigating the impacts of residential schools at wherearethey@cbc.ca or call toll-free: 1-833-824-0800.

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