Decades after reporting Rivoire, whistleblower learns she wasn’t the only one
Karen Bergman reported allegations of abuse to church leader in Manitoba in early 1990s; charges weren’t laid until 1998
One of the first people to inform the Roman Catholic Church of allegations of sexual abuse by Rev. Johannes Rivoire has spoken to a safeguarding commission looking into the church’s handling of those complaints.
Karen Bergman spoke to retired Quebec Superior Court judge André Denis in Winnipeg on Aug. 24. Denis was appointed by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to lead the commission.
Rivoire worked as a parish priest in Rankin Inlet, Igloolik and Arviat as a member of the Oblates, a religious order in the Roman Catholic Church. He remains a member today.
Bergman lives in eastern British Columbia, so the commission flew her to Winnipeg to speak to Denis.
In an interview with Nunatsiaq News, Bergman said she first heard allegations against Rivoire while living in Arviat sometime in the early 1990s.
Bergman said she reported what she heard in a letter to a Catholic official in Manitoba but never received a response.
Rivoire, who is now in his 90s, was charged with sex crimes against youth in 1998 but he’d already moved back to France, where he remains today.
Those charges were stayed in 2017.
RCMP laid a new sex-related charge in February 2022. Rivoire has refused to return to Canada to answer to the charge.
Bergman said she learned something new after speaking to Denis.
“I just found out this morning in my interview … that I wasn’t the first or the only” person to reach out to the church.
Bergman said Denis told her of two other church officials who also said they heard the allegations.
“Denis said he found no record of my letter in the archives,” Bergman said, adding he told her that the church official in Manitoba “said he never got the letter.”
The Oblates’ safeguarding commission was announced in June to review all past allegations of abuse against Rivoire and investigate how they were addressed within the congregation.
“I was skeptical about participating,” Bergman said.
“But after some reflection and discussion, I decided I didn’t want to live with this blanket distrust [of the process]. I wanted to go in trusting and hoping that there would be some change.”
Bergman said she’s heard of others who say they would never trust somebody funded by the Oblates to investigate the Oblates.
She noted Denis worked for 25 years as a judge in Quebec and in 2021 was hired by Montreal’s archdiocese to investigate historical abuse allegations within that congregation.
“I am cautiously optimistic,” Bergman said of the commission’s work.
Bergman said she hopes the allegations are taken seriously and dealt with in an open and public way. She also hopes the investigation isn’t limited to the church’s actions.
“The RCMP played a big role in this,” she said. “I know at least two abused people that went to the RCMP as adults and the RCMP didn’t do anything about it.
“From what I understand, as early as 1991–92, they had reason to lay charges and they didn’t.”
She said Denis told her he has also requested archival information from the RCMP.
Bergman said Denis did not disclose much about his ongoing investigation but did say he has complete access to the Oblates’ archives and has met with Inuit community members and members of the clergy.
Denis declined a request for an interview about his work with the safeguarding commission.
In an email to Nunatsiaq News he said he has gone to Winnipeg as well as Churchill, Man., and Rankin Inlet. He has no further trips scheduled, he said, because he has not received communication from people who want to meet with him.
“But I’m ready to go anywhere people want to see me,” he said.
Bergman said she feels the experience was worthwhile and she hopes more people will reach out to Denis.
Victims of alleged abuse, family members or anyone with information about Rivoire can email judge André Denis directly at: [email protected].
Denis’s final report is scheduled to be released in April 2024.