Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, once considered a strong candidate to be pope, has been accused of sexual assault in a class action suit that targets more than 80 members of the clergy in the archdiocese of Quebec, court documents showed Tuesday.
The accusation over the alleged abuse of a female intern from 2008 to 2010 — when he was archbishop of Quebec — comes just weeks after Pope Francis visited Canada, where he apologized for the decades-long abuse of Indigenous children in Catholic-run residential schools.
Cardinal Ouellet is a prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, one of the most important functions within the Curia, the government of the Vatican.
At the last papal conclave that elevated Pope Francis to the papacy, Cardinal Ouellet was mentioned as being among the favorites. All cardinals under the age of 80 are eligible. Cardinal Ouellet is now 78.
When contacted by AFP, the archdiocese of Quebec said in a statement that it had “taken note of the allegations with respect to Cardinal Marc Ouellet” and had no further comment.
The Vatican did not immediately reply to AFP’s request for comment.
The claims against Cardinal Ouellet in the civil suit, which the Quebec supreme court ruled could go ahead in May, are among testimonies of 101 people who say they were sexually assaulted by members of the clergy and church staff from 1940 to today.
Cardinal Ouellet’s accuser, identified only as “F,” says the cardinal assaulted her multiple times — kissing her, “forcefully” massaging her shoulders, and once sliding his hand along her back to her buttocks.
The accuser says she had the feeling of being “chased after,” according to the documents. When the woman tried to raise the issue, she was told she wasn’t the only woman to have such a “problem” with Cardinal Ouellet, documents show.
She later was advised to write a letter to Pope Francis about her accusations. She was then informed that Pope Francis had named someone to investigate Cardinal Ouellet.
The woman has not heard of any conclusions in that investigation.
So far, the cardinal is not facing criminal charges.
In February, Cardinal Ouellet opened a Vatican symposium on the priesthood by apologizing for “unworthy” clergy and the cover-up of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, before an audience that included Pope Francis.
“We are all torn and humbled by these crucial questions that every day question us as members of the Church,” Cardinal Ouellet said at the time.
He said the symposium was an opportunity to express regret and ask victims for forgiveness, after their lives were “destroyed by abusive and criminal behavior” that was hidden or treated lightly to protect the institution and the perpetrators.
Since becoming pope in 2013, Pope Francis has striven to tackle the decades-long sexual abuse scandals, although many activists against pedophilia insist much more needs to be done.
In Canada, the Church is facing several class action suits related to sexual misconduct. In the western part of the country, more than 30 students have filed suit against several officials at a Christian school, CBC reported.