A Winnipeg archdiocese has barred a Catholic priest from publicly speaking after he accused survivors of residential schools of lying about sexual abuse in order to get more money from court settlements, spreading falsehoods about residential schools, and joking about shooting those who write graffiti on churches, among other things.
The remarks were made over the course of many weeks of services at St. Emile Roman Catholic Church and were captured on film for the church’s Facebook page. Father Rhéal Forest, who was temporarily assigned to St. Emile while the parish’s regular pastor, Father Gerry Sembrano, was on vacation, claimed during a July 10 mass that residential school survivors lied about being sexually abused in order to receive more money during the federal government’s settlement process.
“It’s hard not to lie when you’re impoverished,” he said, adding that all of the Indigenous people he met during his 22 years working up north supported residential schools. Forest admitted that some people were mistreated, but he blamed it on night watchmen rather than nuns and priests.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 report, “nearly 40 successful prosecutions of former residential school staff members who sexually or physically assaulted kids” have occurred. As of Jan. 31, that year, it had received 37,951 claims for injuries caused by physical and sexual abuse at residential schools.
Forest recounted traveling past another local church that had been damaged with the words “Save the children,” a slogan used by Indigenous people and allies in reference to residential institutions, in another liturgy. Forest stated that he intended to frighten away vandals with a shotgun blast and then shoot them if they did not flee.
“Thoughts of rage as I pass past. If I had a shotgun and saw them at night, I’d yell, ‘Boom!’ simply to terrify them, and if they didn’t go away, I’d shoot them ” Forest stated, chuckling, in his sermon on July 18. He suddenly reversed his position, adding, “But this would not help, it’s awful to do that, I’d go talk to them.” He went on to blame the media for convincing the vandals that the Catholic Church murdered children from residential schools.
The recordings involving Forest have now been removed, according to Daniel Bahuaud, a spokesperson for the archdiocese, and Archbishop Albert LeGatt, who also apologized for the statements. Forest has also been prohibited from openly preaching and teaching by the archbishop.
Forest’s statements were “totally disavowed” by LeGatt and the archbishop, according to Bahuaud in an email. In an interview, Bahuaud stated that any additional penalty for Forest will be determined by LeGatt.