A picture of a priest in handcuffs, but it's cropped above his mouth and below his elbows.

Photo Credit: Breaking in the Habit

The First of Many—We Hope

Those responsible for the horrors of residential schools must be held to account—now

Arrest of Winnipeg priest comes 60 years after alleged sexual assault

Last week, the RCMP arrested Arthur Masse and charged him for an alleged sexual assault that happened 60 years ago. Masse is a 92-year-old-retired priest. Back then, he was employed at the Fort Alexander Residential School northeast of Winnipeg on Sagkeeng First Nation.

His alleged victim was a 10-year-old girl at the time. Masse was in his early 30s and in a position of authority.

It’s about time someone was arrested for an act like this. This is an important milestone.

Why should Islanders care?

It’s been more than a year since the discovery of unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. This tragic discovery triggered similar searches at residential school sites across Canada, many of them on VanIsle and many of them ongoing.

Thousand of kids died in the horrific schools. Thousands more were abused like the 10-year-old girl Sagkeeng girl. The only questions are where and how many.

But this is the first arrest in a long time.

What’s taking so long?

The charges against Masse are the result of a decade-long investigation that included hundreds of interviews with residential school survivors. Since news broke of his arrest last Friday, more alleged victims have come forward.

Police say they will look into the reports but wouldn’t clarify if these new reports were about Masse in particular or other alleged residential school abuses.

During the 1960s, Masse also spent time as principal of Pine Creek Residential School northwest of Winnipeg. Chief Derek Nepinak, of Minegoziibe Anishinabe (Pine Creek) First Nation, told CBC that the priest was “notorious” there. He said the nation is supporting community members who want to speak about their experiences at the school.

 “I’ve heard stories about how he’s treated young people in the community,” Nepinak said in the CBC story.

These charges are yet to be proven in court, but the pattern will likely be familiar. No doubt some of Masse’s superiors in the Catholic Church knew of his alleged crimes. They could have done something to protect children in their care from an alleged pedophile.

Instead, they turned a blind eye.

Six decades is a long time for Indigenous people to wait for justice. Still, we applaud the work of the RCMP that led to Masse’s arrest.

We also applaud the victims and survivors who have lived with the trauma of abuse for decades and had the courage to come forward.

An apology from the Pope won’t be enough. The church needs to atone for its crimes, and that means helping police and First Nations bring more of these abusers to court.

The evidence of deaths and abuse continues to mount. And it’s not just the Church that’s been shirking responsibility.

The RCMP and local police need to prioritize investigations. The federal government needs to do its duty and prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes.

The inaction is appalling.

Justice delayed is justice denied.