VATICAN CITY | Pope Francis has ruled out opening a new investigation into Canada’s Cardinal Marc Ouellet, a senior Vatican official accused of sexual assault, for lack of “sufficient evidence”.
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“Pope Francis declares that there are insufficient elements to launch a canonical inquiry (religious, ed.) into sexual assaults by Cardinal Ouellet against Person F.” ), Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni announced in a brief statement on Thursday.
Marc Ouellet, 78 years old and current prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, one of the most important functions of the Vatican government, is said to have inappropriately touched this intern between 2008 and 2010, when he was archbishop of Quebec, according to a document published on April 16. Published on August 11, resulting from the class action lawsuit approved by the Supreme Court of that French-speaking province in May.
The revelations came three weeks after the pope visited Canada to apologize for abuses by members of the church at native boarding schools.
It was not until 2020 that F., who said he had also been a victim of sexual assault by another clergyman, spoke to the Québec Diocese’s Sexual Abuse Advisory Committee, which then recommended that he write a letter to Pope Francis.
The plaintiff, who claims to have been assaulted by the cardinal on several occasions, explains that in 2008 the cardinal “forcefully” massaged her shoulders, stroked her back and “hugs her tightly,” multiple times.
F. then tries to avoid the cardinal but comes back to her. She then “feels like she’s being followed.”
In 2010, Marc Ouellet met her twice in one week. This is a chance to “kiss her again” because “there’s no harm in spoiling yourself a little,” he would have said, according to the same source. A “completely inappropriate” comment, according to F. She adds that the religious “kissed” her and “ran his hand” down her back “to her buttocks”.
F.’s case is among the testimonies of about 100 people who, according to court documents, were “sexually abused” by more than 80 members and lay employees of the Diocese of Quebec between June 1940 and the present.
In 2021, the Pope responded to F.’s letter by appointing “Father Jacques Servais to investigate Cardinal Marc Ouellet”. And it is precisely on the basis of the elements collected by Father Servais, according to Matteo Bruni, that the Pope has decided to rule out an investigation against Bishop Ouellet.
The spokesman specifies that Father Servais, whose preliminary investigation ended with the lack of sufficient elements, was contacted again by the Pope, who received the assurance that there was no reason to continue the procedure.
Unusually, the statement, written in Italian, cites statements in French by Father Servais, a Jesuit like the Pope: “There is no reason to launch an investigation into the sexual assault of person F. by the card. Mr Ouellet,” he says.
“Neither in the report written (by F., editor’s note) and sent to the Holy Father, nor in the testimony via Zoom, which I subsequently obtained in the presence of a member of the ad hoc diocesan committee, has this Some person brought charges that would provide material for such an investigation,” said Father Servais.
Marc Ouellet was named as one of the favorites in the last conclave that ended in 2013 and elected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina as Pope.
In February, during an important symposium at the Vatican in the presence of Pope Francis, he himself castigated the “drama of sexual assault by clerics” and “criminal behavior that has been kept secret for too long to protect the institution”.
In Canada, the Catholic Church is currently facing multiple class action lawsuits alleging sexual assault.