Priest Banned After Accusing School Sexual Abuse Victims of Lying for Money

A priest in Canada has been banned from delivering sermons after he claimed that some survivors of sexual abuse had lied in an effort to receive higher sums of money.

The Archdiocese of St. Boniface in Winnipeg, Canada, banned Father Rhéal Forest after he made the controversial remarks during a July 10 mass sermon, CBC reported on Thursday. Forest accused survivors of abuse and sexual assault at Canada's historic residential schools for indigenous children of lying in order to receive large financial settlements.

"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 videos posted to the Facebook page of St. Emile Roman Catholic Church. Forest was temporarily placed at the church while the congregation's regular pastor went on vacation.

"It's kind of hard if you're poor not to lie," the priest added. Although he said that some of the survivors had experienced bad treatment, he argued that this was not always due to fellow priests and nuns.

The Archdiocese of St. Boniface, in a statement emailed to Newsweek, condemned the priest's remarks and asked for forgiveness. The archdiocese also reiterated that Forest had been barred from teaching publicly and presenting sermons.

"Recognizing the undeniable multi-faceted tragic legacy of the Indian Residential School system, Archbishop LeGatt and the Archdiocese completely disavow Fr. Rhéal Forest's comments. We very much take to heart the pain his words have caused to numerous people, not least of course Indigenous people and, more specifically, survivors of the Residential School system," the statement said.

"As Archbishop of St. Boniface, Bishop LeGatt asks Indigenous people throughout the Archdiocese of St. Boniface and beyond, especially the survivors of the Fort Alexander Residential School, as well as their families, for forgiveness for the hurt these unfounded remarks have caused."

In another controversial sermon, which CBC reported, Forest said that he'd like to "shoot" people who had vandalized a church with the words "Save the Children." The term is often used by indigenous Canadian groups and their allies to reference the abuse that many were forced to endure in the residential schools.

"As I'm passing by, thoughts of anger. If I had a shotgun at night and I'd see them, I'd go, 'Boom!' just to scare them and if they don't run away, I'll shoot them," the priest said during a July 18 mass. Forest then admitted this would be a "bad" thing to do, suggesting it would be better to "chat" with the vandals about their actions.

The former residential school system, which began in the 1800s, was mandatory for indigenous children and worked to remove them from their native religious and cultural traditions. The schools were funded by the Canadian government and run by churches in the country. Estimates suggest that tens of thousands of indigenous children may have died due to the treatment they experienced at the schools, while many more were subjected to sexual and physical abuse.

"These residential schools were created for the purpose of separating Aboriginal children from their families, in order to minimize and weaken family ties and cultural linkages, and to indoctrinate children into a new culture—the culture of the legally dominant Euro-Christian Canadian society, led by Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald," Canada's 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission report on the schools explained.

Updated 07/29/2021, 3:41 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with a statement from the Archdiocese of St. Boniface.

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A priest in Canada has been banned from delivering sermons after he claimed that some survivors of sexual abuse had lied in an effort to receive higher sums of money. Above, the sun rises behind a stone cross atop the historic Cathedral Basilica of St. Frances of Assisi in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Robert Alexander/Getty Images