OTTAWA â€” The Anglican Church of Canada says it is working on a formal national apology to the victims of a notorious priest who preyed on boys in First Nations communities in the 1970s and 1980s.
Ralph Rowe was a former air force pilot and police officer who was ordained in 1975. As a priest and a Scout leader, he assaulted boys in more than a dozen remote communities in northwestern Ontario.
He was convicted on dozens of counts, but served only about five years in jail.
In a statement on Friday, Anglican Church general secretary Michael Thompson acknowledged the anguish Rowe left in his wake.
“We know that the trauma he inflicted was not only on persons, but also on communities, and that its impact is intergenerational,” Thompson said. “The Anglican Church of Canada has, since it became aware of the nature and scope of Ralph Rowe’s abuse, been actively concerned about its impact.”
He said the church has conducted a series of mediation efforts with the affected communities over the last 20 years.
The church also abolished the northwestern Ontario diocese of Keewatin, where Rowe served, and replaced it with the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh under Bishop Lydia Mamakwa.
Thompson said the primate of the Anglican Church, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, is working with Mamakwa “to renew a way forward that will lead to a formal national apology to the victims of Ralph Rowe and to their communities.”
The church’s statement came after the First Nations community of Wapekaka, north of Thunder Bay, was rocked by the suicides of two 12-year-old girls.
Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, noted that the Anglican Church shares responsibility for the crisis in his communities, “and especially for the tragic number of young people who have died by suicide.”
Thompson said the church acknowledges “that our past actions have helped to create a legacy of brokenness in some First Nations communities.”
“We express our willingness, in spite of failings and false starts in the past, to renew our commitment to dialogue and discernment that will help us understand more deeply and act more effectively on our responsibilities.”
The story of Rowe and three of his victims was the subject of a gripping documentary, “Survivors Rowe,” directed by Daniel Roher and produced by Peter Oâ€™Brian, which premiered at the international film festival Hot Docs in 2015.
The Canadian Press