Archdiocese apologizes after priest accuses residential school survivors of lying
A Winnipeg archdiocese will no longer allow a Catholic priest to preach publicly or teach after he suggested during a sermon that residential school survivors lied to get settlement money.
"His words have deeply, deeply hurt people," said Archbishop Albert LeGatt in a video posted on the Archdiocese of Saint Boniface's social media Thursday.
"I completely disavow his words."
The priest, Rheal Forest, made the comments during a handful of masses at St. Emile Catholic Church in Winnipeg earlier this month. Forest was filling in for the parish's regular priest.
During one service, Forest said he worked in the north for 22 years and believes students enjoyed their time at residential schools. He also suggested survivors claimed they were victims of sexual abuse to get settlement money.
"If they wanted extra money, for the money that was given to them, they had to lie sometimes," Forest told parishioners.
"Lie that they were abused sexually and, oop, another $50,000. It's kind of hard if you are poor not to lie."
The services were broadcast on social media through the church's Facebook page. CBC News captured the videos before they were deleted earlier this week.
Forest also said if students were abused, it wasn't by priests. He suggested it was by night watchmen.
Forest also claimed that the media is evil and run by freemasons.
LeGatt said he is sorry for pain the priest's remarks caused to Indigenous people, particularly residential school survivors.
"I and, I hope, more and more people will come to that place of completely disavowing that kind of thinking ... that kind of racism," the archbishop said.
LeGatt asked for forgiveness and said the diocese, especially church leadership, has a responsibility to understand the truth of what happened at residential schools. He called on all Catholics to join him on the journey of reconciliation.
The priest's comments come as the country has been forced to face its history with Indigenous people. In recent months, unmarked graves have been located at the sites of numerous former residential schools across the country.
An estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children were forced to attend residential schools.
Survivors told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission stories of abuse they endured while staying at the schools, including instances of starvation and harsh discipline. Nearly 38,000 claims of sexual and serious physical abuse were submitted as part of the independent assessment process of the residential school settlement agreement.
At the time of the commission's final report, more than 40 former residential school staff members were convicted for abuse.
Mounties in Manitoba said earlier this week that officers there have been investigating abuse allegations at Fort Alexander Residential School, northeast of Winnipeg, for more than a decade. No charges have been laid.
'CANADA HAS LIVED IN DENIAL'
Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels says these comments prove that the church is still not paying attention to how devastating residential schools were.
"We're finding bodies in the residential schools that were managed by the Catholic Church," said Daniels.
He said the facts speak for themselves and he is appalled someone within the church would try to downplay the seriousness of these schools.
"You have to have a church who is willing to come to grips with the truth of what happened and their role in that and not defending themselves or trying to protect themselves from this."
Daniels said the church needs to help with reconciliation efforts, adding it's not Indigenous peoples' jobs to educate the Catholic community and instead, they need to keep up with what actually happened.
The Grand Chief said he isn't surprised by the comments because "Canada has lived in denial."
"People just need to understand how deeply impactful the residential experience was and what kind of imprint it has left on the minds and on the hearts of the survivors and their families."
- With files from CTV's Devon McKendrick.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 29, 2021.
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