Archdiocese cancels Sunday masses after Winnipeg priest’s remarks about residential school survivors

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Sunday services at the Winnipeg Catholic church where a priest questioned the motives of residential school survivors are being cancelled on the advice of Winnipeg police. 

The Archdiocese of St. Boniface said Saturday that the three masses scheduled for Sunday at St. Emile Catholic Church have been cancelled on the recommendation of Winnipeg police.

Police alerted the church that they’d seen comments online and recommended cancelling services as a precaution, archdiocese communications co-ordinator Daniel Bahuaud said Saturday. 

“They noticed certain remarks being made — not threats — but remarks,” Bahuaud said. He didn’t elaborate on the specifics of the comments made.

The parish has been embroiled in controversy since Thursday, when CBC News published comments made by Father Rhéal Forest in a recent sermon where he accused residential school survivors of lying about being abused to get more government compensation. 

WATCH | Father Rhéal Forest sermon accusing residential school survivors of lying:

Father Rhéal Forest delivers a sermon at St. Emile Catholic Church on July 10, 2021, in which he blames the media for residential school allegations and says survivors would sometimes lie about being sexually abused in order to receive more settlement money. 4:05

Forest, who was a temporary replacement at the parish, also joked in another sermon about shooting those who sprayed graffiti on a church. 

The archdiocese responded by removing Forest from all public preaching and teaching. 

Archbishop Albert LeGatt also issued a lengthy video message on Facebook disavowing Forest’s remarks and called them racist. 

Bloodvein First Nation, where Forest once worked, is moving to ban him from ever returning to the reserve. 

Bahuaud reiterated Saturday that the archdiocese disavows Forest’s comments. 

“They are not what the Archdiocese of St. Boniface stands for in terms of truth and reconciliation,” he said. 

“We want to move forward with Indigenous people toward reconciliation, in spite of the difficult past and present situation.”

He encouraged St. Emile parishioners to seek out alternate services in Winnipeg, many of which are live streamed. 

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 or call toll-free: 1-833-824-0800.

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