The archbishop of St. Boniface has strongly disavowed comments made by a priest during a sermon that residential school survivors lied to get settlement money.

The archbishop of St. Boniface has strongly disavowed comments made by a priest during a sermon that residential school survivors lied to get settlement money.

In a video statement, Archbishop Albert LeGatt said he wanted to be "very clear" he doesn’t agree with words spoken by Father Rheal Forest, who was filling in at St. Emile Roman Catholic Church this summer while the priest was on vacation.

"I completely disavow them, and disavow the way of thinking, the attitude and all that is behind those words," he said.

"I'm not just sorry or regret or wish he hadn't used those words," he said. "I disavow… that kind of racism."

Father Rhéal Forest's recently used a sermon to say that residential school survivors lied to get settlement money. (FACEBOOK)

Father Rhéal Forest's recently used a sermon to say that residential school survivors lied to get settlement money. (FACEBOOK)

His words, he said, "had deeply, deeply hurt people," especially Indigenous people.

During his July 10 sermon, Forest claimed residential school survivors lied about sexual abuse to get more money from court settlements, spread falsehoods about residential schools, and that any abuse that happened was not due to priests and nuns. He talked about shooting those who vandalized churches. The comments were posted on the church’s Facebook page.

In his response, LeGatt said he wanted to do more than just express regret and apologize for the comments.

"It goes beyond saying we apologize," he said. "It’s about asking forgiveness, not just saying sorry it happened and promise not to do it again… when someone says 'please forgive me,' it comes from a place in the heart."

"What we are saying to Indigenous people… is please forgive us, to forgive me, to walk with me."

Any plea for forgiveness must include taking time to be fully informed and to listen to Indigenous people about the impact of residential schools, he said.

Archbishop Albert LeGatt said he wanted to be “very clear” he doesn’t agree with Father Rheal Forest's statements that residential school survivors lied to get settlement money. (Jessie Boily / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Archbishop Albert LeGatt said he wanted to be “very clear” he doesn’t agree with Father Rheal Forest's statements that residential school survivors lied to get settlement money. (Jessie Boily / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The archbishop went on to say the incident reveals the need to continue working with priests and members of the diocese "to go much further in terms of learning" about the history of the Roman Catholic Church with Indigenous people.

As for Forest, his ability to preach and teach have been completely withdrawn, although he remains a priest and can continue to celebrate mass and hear confessions, the archbishop said.

In a follow-up interview with the Free Press, the archbishop noted his comments were made just after news about the sermon broke in the media, and that they were unscripted and "from the heart."

While he was sorry to learn about the priest’s comments, he said he is even sadder knowing there are many non-Indigenous people today who share those views.

"It’s not just an isolated case," he said. "It’s a mindset, you could even call it structural racism, a way of approaching Indigenous people in society that can be in all of us as non-Indigenous people."

For non-Indigenous members of the Roman Catholic Church, the goal is to "help each other get beyond those attitudes and ways of thinking that cause further division and harm," he said.

That means asking "what does Jesus want, and where is he leading us" with regards to reconciliation with Indigenous people.

This is a task for priests in the diocese, who can invite people "to see the light of truth" about the experience of Indigenous people in Canada, and find ways for their stories to be heard.

His goal is to see a "spirit-led effort to refuse hatred and division and embrace solidarity, dialogue and mutual respect" in the diocese with Indigenous people.

Faith@freepress.mb.ca

John Longhurst

John Longhurst
Faith reporter

John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.

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