Canadian priest banned after downplaying residential school abuse

Father Rheal Forest also blamed the media for spreading ‘fake news’ about the physical abuse of Indigenous children.

People from the Mosakahiken Cree Nation hug in front of a makeshift memorial at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada [File: Cole Burston/AFP]

A Catholic priest in Canada has been banned from speaking publicly by the Archdiocese, after accusing Indigenous residential school survivors of physical and sexual abuse, of lying to get money in federal court settlements.

Father Rheal Forest made the comments on July 10 during a sermon in St Emile Roman Catholic Church in Winnipeg where he was reportedly filling in for the church’s regular pastor.

“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,” Forest said, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC).

“It’s kind of hard if you’re poor not to lie,” he reportedly said.

The CBC reported that after Forest’s remarks drew widespread outrage, the Archdiocese of St Boniface removed the videos from St Emile’s Facebook page and revoked his rights to preach publicly.

“His words have deeply, deeply hurt people,” Archbishop of St Boniface Albert LeGatt said in a video published on Facebook on Thursday.

“I completely disavow his words and the attitudes and thinking and approaches and culture behind those words,” he said.

Starting in 1831 and as recently as 1996, Canada’s residential school system forcibly separated Indigenous children from their families, subjecting them to malnourishment and physical and sexual abuse in what the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 called “cultural genocide”.

Since May, hundreds of unmarked graves of children have been discovered.

Survivors who spoke with Canadian and international media recalled perpetual hunger and haunting loneliness, with schools run under the threat and frequent use of force.

Recently installed solar lights marking burial sites on Cowessess First Nation, where a search had found 751 unmarked graves from the former Marieval Residential School near Grayson, Saskatchewan, Canada [File: Shannon VanRaes/Reuters]

Kyle Mason, an Indigenous activist in Winnipeg and the son of a residential school survivor told CBC in an interview published on Friday that he was “saddened and disgusted” by the priest’s comments.

“I was really sad to hear that somebody in his type of position could still hold these kind of views after everything that’s been said and done,” he said.

“Survivors had to endure unspeakable horrors, tragedies, and that attempted genocide on cultures and language,” he said. “So it is absolutely disgusting that you would just label them as lying to get more money.”

In a video published by CBC, Forest blamed the media for spreading “fake news” about residential schools.

“This is the evil, the evil of media. Media makes people believe so many things. Fake news,” Forest said.

The discovery of the graves has rocked Canada, prompting searches elsewhere and forcing Canadians to confront their country’s genocidal treatment of Indigenous peoples.

While the Canadian government and some Canadian bishops have apologised, no pope has, despite the significant role the Catholic Church played in the largely church-run schools.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies