Little Grand Rapids residents call for removal of Catholic church after priest’s arrest, chief says
The chief of a Manitoba First Nation where a priest has been accused of sexually assaulting an eight-year-old girl says many in his community have had enough of the Catholic Church.
Chief Oliver Owen told 680 CJOB’s The Jim Toth Show that the shocking news of Arul Savari’s arrest has reverberated throughout Little Grand Rapids First Nation, where some residents are calling for drastic action.
Savari, 48, was arrested by RCMP Tuesday and charged with sexual assault, sexual interference, sexual exploitation of a young person, luring a child and forcible confinement.
Owen said the arrest was discussed at a recent band meeting.
“People reacted and said, ‘We don’t want a priest here ever again, and I think the church should leave.’
“That’s what people in the community are saying, and as a representative of the community, as the chief, I follow the people’s wishes.”
Although Owen said he’s waiting for the RCMP to finish their investigation — which police say could include additional victims in Little Grand Rapids and nearby Pauingassi First Nation, where Savari was also posted — the anger in the community is palpable, especially given the already fraught historical relationship between Indigenous people and the church.
“The residential schools, they involved the church. There was a lot of people that were hurt … and to hear this again in 2023, it’s shocking,” he said.
“It’s not right. I don’t know where they’re getting these priests from to come to our communities. I think they should be investigated first before they step into a community to see if they have any criminal records or anything.”
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Owen said he met the priest last year, and had no sense of his “dark side.” The Archdiocese of St. Boniface, he said, has reached out for a meeting about the situation.
After Savari’s arrest, the archdiocese issued a statement indicating its intention to co-operate fully with police, as well as to confirm Savari’s suspension — and while Owen said he’s willing to hear a direct apology from representatives of the church, a more meaningful gesture would be to apologize to the community at large.
“Let’s get the church to come to Little Grand Rapids and apologize. They can apologize to the chief all they want but they need to apologize to the community.”
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