Manitoba RCMP have charged a priest working in a remote First Nation community, after allegedly sexually assaulting an 8-year-old girl.
Police have arrested 48-year-old Arul Savari, who is a priest in Little Grand Rapids First Nation, about 265km northeast of Winnipeg. He has been taken out of the community and remains in custody.
Investigators believe the victim was at the church alone with Savari on May 27 when he touched her and tried to prevent her from leaving – the child was eventually able to flee to her home.
Police say additional youth members of the religious community have already been notified as potential victims.
“We haven’t come to the point in the investigation where we can say that these are confirmed victims. Not to say they aren’t, but we are still investigating, taking statements, finding corroborating evidence, things like that. The investigation is very much ongoing at this point,” said Tara Seel, media relations with Manitoba RCMP.
Savari has been in Canada for six years and has a residence in Winnipeg, police say. He has also attended the community of Pauingassi First Nation in his role as a priest – all under the authority of the Archdiocese of Saint Boniface.
A spokesperson for the Archdiocese says they will fully cooperate with the RCMP in the investigation, “…the Archdiocese immediately suspended Fr. Arul Savari from all ministerial activity in the Archdiocese. Fr. Savari has been forbidden to have anything to do with former parishioners and children.”
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“We need to see some action. We really need to see some meaningful action,” said Grand Chief Jerry Daniels, Southern Chiefs Organization.
Grand Chief Daniels says the leaders of the Catholic Church have a lot of work to do in repairing relationships with First Nations people. He says an apology will not be enough.
“We talk about residential schools as a past tense, but the reality is, those things, those ideas and behaviours continue to this day and the leaders really have to work to change that,” said Grand Chief Daniels.
Katherine Strongwind from the 60s Scoop Legacy of Canada says incidents like these bring back the horrible memories for those who have experienced something like this before.
“My hope is that we can come together as communities and as people to support survivors and victims of sexual assault,” said Strongwind.
Lawyer Rob Talach has covered over 1,000 sex abuses cases in his career and around 425 cases alone within the Catholic church. He says most of the victims of clergy abuse will take decades to come forward.
“My male clients are in their 50s and 60s. My female clients, who disclose a bit earlier, are in their 40s and 50s,” said Talach. “Clergy and sex, that combination, is such a taboo, such a scandal factor. It’s not spoken of. It’s not addressed. It runs rampant behind the scenes and until they make some changes on that fundamental requirement, I think we are going to continue to see this.”
Published on June 1, 2023