Bishop Tony Krotki of the Churchill-Hudson Bay Diocese is close with some of the Igloolik, Nunavut, families who had to relive painful memories involving former missionary priest Eric Dejaeger. Photo by Michael Swan.

Bishop hopes for healing after abuse trial

  • September 19, 2014

With a guilty verdict on child-sex charges against former missionary priest Eric Dejaeger, Bishop Tony Krotki hopes the people of Igloolik in the diocese of Churchill-Hudson Bay will be able to continue healing with support from the Church and away from the media spotlight of a lurid, wrenching trial.

Dejaeger, a former Belgian Oblate, was a priest in Igoloolik from 1978 to 1982. He pled guilty last December to eight of 70 charges but, despite the passage of more than 30 years, there was suf-ficient evidence to find Dejaeger guilty on a total of 24 counts.

The slow and winding path of the criminal justice system left Dejaeger’s victims reliving the darkest days of their childhoods over and over, Krotki told The Catholic Register in an email.

“They had to go through it with lawyers, then with police, then in court more than once. And at the end the media reminded them time and time again,” Krotki said. “It was devastating and agonizing.”

Krotki himself served as pastor in Igloolik, years after Dejaeger’s time, and became close to some families who brought charges against Dejaeger.

“Their lives are always on my mind. Their families are always in my thoughts. They are so present in my heart,” Krotki said. “I am still waiting for the moment to let them know how dear they are to me.”

Now as bishop, Krotki is aware of the damage Dejaeger has done to families and the community.

“Abuse done by Church rep-resentatives hurts tremendously, because it is committed by a person who was very trusted, who spoke about love,” he said. “I would not say that the trust in the Church was broken, but damaged, yes, tremendously.”

The community remains strong because people in the north, facing a harsh climate, understand they have to rely on each other, said Krotki.

“The Inuit people have always been a community and they need community. Once they establish community they live as a community, they suffer as a community and they give witness as a community,” said the bishop. “People of the North are very strong and I know they believe that the new day is always coming.”

There’s a new self-understand-ing and a new sense of responsi-bility among Inuit Catholics who lived through the trial.

“All of us are members of the Church and it is the responsibility of each member of the Church to make sure the children are safe,” Krotki said. “It is my responsibil-ity and the responsibility of every believer and nonbeliever to make sure this will not happen again. I cannot accept violence and abuse of any kind.”

Dejaeger was originally to face his Igloolik victims in 1995 but slipped out of the country. The Belgian’s history of sexually ex-ploiting children in his care began to come to light in 1989. At the end of that year he pled guilty to eight counts of sexual assault and one of indecent assault from his time living in Baker Lake from 1982 to 1989. That first court case resulted in a five-year sentence. In 1991 he pled guilty to two more sexual assault charges originating in Baker Lake. But by 1992 he was out on parole.

In 1993 the RCMP filed new charges. A summer 1993 trial was put off, but in 1994 the RCMP began interviewing Igloolik victims. Facing a new trial in 1995, Dejaeger asked his Oblate superiors in Belgium for permis-sion to return home. The Belgian Oblates accepted Dejaeger’s request and an arrest warrant was issued when the priest failed to show for a court date in Canada. Despite eventually being put on an Interpol “red list,” it seems nothing was done to apprehend Dejaeger until a Belgian newspaper printed a story about him in 2010.

As late as the early 2000s Dejaeger retained his faculties as a priest. He was greeting pilgrims and hearing confessions at Lourdes in 2001 when a young Flemish pilgrim recognized him and complained. Though his faculties were stripped in 2002 he was seen concelebrating at a funeral Mass in 2009.

With the trial over, Krotki hopes Nunavut Catholics and most of all the survivors of De-jaeger’s time “can finally start searching for the life they missed for so long.”

“It was a very long trial. The victims are tired. Their families are tired,” Krotki wrote. “I am glad it is coming to a point where many would say, ‘Thank you my brother, thank you my sister. You were strong and now we can look forward to making your life better and happier. Deep in my heart, I wish this.” 

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