11/17/2013 10:00 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

As trial begins for Dutch priest, northern community hopes to move on

IQALUIT, Nunavut - The worst is already over, says one of the dozens of alleged victims of a disgraced priest whose trial on 76 sex-related charges involving Inuit children is to begin Monday.

"It's almost a relief," the woman said recently from her home in Igloolik, Nunavut, the community where most of the charges against Eric Dejaeger from 18 years ago are based.

Dejaeger was supposed to be tried in 1995 for his activities as an Oblate priest in the tiny Arctic hamlet on the Melville Peninsula. Instead, he fled to his homeland of Belgium — some say with the tacit consent of Canadian justice officials.

It was as if he'd returned from the dead when he was brought back in January 2011 after Belgium kicked him out for immigration violations, the woman said.

"We were told that he was never going to be found. And when he came back to life and came to Canada, that was a shock to all of us."

That shock rocked Igloolik's 1,500 residents.

In a 2011 interview with The Canadian Press, the woman, who can't be named under a court order, admitted she wasn't handling Dejaeger's return well. She drank. Heavily. Others did too.

"Some of us are being abusive towards our common-law husband or wife," she said in that interview. "It's a lot of tension and numbness."

The local Catholic priest had to be recalled after threats were made against him.

But now, she said, things are better.

"It was hard in the beginning, but now it's way easier and I'm not afraid any more. He's in jail.

"I talked about him, I charged him and he's getting what he deserves and everybody else is coming out and telling their stories about him."

The Canadian Press could not reach Dejaeger's lawyer for comment.

Dejaeger has pleaded not guity and will be tried by judge alone. There was no preliminary hearing in the case, as the accused waived his right to one.

The woman said she has just returned from rehab for her drinking.

"I'm doing good. I still drink occasionally, but I'm not a drunk any more."

She said she is moving on and is trying to find a way to forgive the accused.

The charges against Dejaeger involve 41 complainants and 26 people from Igloolik are expected to testify. Many of them, the woman said, feel the same way she does —they say they have to find a way to forgive the accused.

"Out of all this bad situation, I'm ... glad that it came out. That way, we can heal."

She has no wish for vengeance against the accused.

"Something will happen to him. Let Nature take care of him.

"If you are a bad person in life, some things will come back to you."