Warning: People may find the details of this story distressing.

A priest who made alarming remarks on residential schools is being "completely disavowed" by his Archbishop, stripping him of preaching roles.

First reported by CBC Manitoba, in July a Catholic priest filling in for another who was on holiday used Sunday sermons to make distressing comments, including about residential schools. Many residential schools were run by Catholic organizations.

In since-deleted sermons posted online to St. Emile Catholic Church's social media, Father Rhéal Forest says he worked "22 years up north with my beautiful natives" and met people who "loved the residential school." The pastor told the congregation that everyone he met that attended the schools said they liked it. He also accuses residential school Survivors of lying about being sexually abused. He says, in the same sermon, abuse scandals "always happen" in institutions.

The videos were pulled this week after CBC made note of the comments, but before their article was published.


Archbishop responds

In a lengthy statement, the St. Boniface Archdioces is making it clear they do not support Forest's comments.

"He expresses his total, absolute disavowal, renunciation, and repudiation of those patently incorrect ideas which were preached. These were wrong, and beyond that, so deeply hurtful to Residential School survivors, and to their loved ones," their Facebook statement says.

Archbishop Albert LeGatt of the St. Boniface Archdiocese says Forest will remain a priest but actions have been taken.

"I wish to say very, very clearly, I and I hope more and more people come to that place, of completely disavowing that kind of thinking," LeGatt says. "His freedom, his possibility of teaching, or preaching, has been completely withdrawn from him."

The Archbishop, who is vocal about reconciliation, says he is refusing to accept Forest's comments. 

"His words have deeply, deeply hurt people," LeGatt says. "What I am doing, and what I am asking all of the Catholics of this archdiocese to join with me in this journey of reconciliation, a journey of right relationships is to go beyond saying 'we apologize' to saying 'please forgive us."

LeGatt says there is a clear distinction between apologizing and asking for forgiveness, noting that asking for forgiveness moves the person from being centred around them towards the one that was hurt, saying he wants people to be humble "just like Jesus."

The Archbishop says all the priests, himself included, need to go "much farther" in their learning.

The Archdiocese is asking people to join them in prayer for Survivors.

"Our Father and Creator, we acknowledge all the gifts we have received from you. We especially acknowledge the gift of children which points towards a future of hope. We express our sorrow for all those Indigenous children and young people who have suffered during their time at Residential Schools over these past many decades. A suffering that continues for many. We also remember with grieving hearts the children who have died during these years. We remember the pain experienced by their families relatives and friends and the helplessness that many have felt when they heard of these deaths.

We know that you are a God of mercy and compassion as we see in the love your Son Jesus has for us. We ask for comfort, healing and consolation for all Indigenous peoples who are experiencing pain and sorrow over the Residential School legacy. Send your Holy Spirit into all hearts giving courage, humility and wisdom so that all the inhabitants of this land can walk the path of truth and reconciliation in justice, peace and love. We acknowledge your gifts Father, and we pray in Jesus’ name.



For Residential School Survivors in need of support, the Residential School crisis line is 1-866-925-4419.