Pope Francis has said there is insufficient evidence to investigate a prominent Canadian cardinal who has been accused of sexual assault in a class-action lawsuit against members of the Catholic diocese in the province of Quebec.
In a statement on Thursday, a Vatican spokesman said the pope had determined after a “preliminary investigation” that there were “insufficient elements to open a canonical investigation for sexual assault by Cardinal [Marc] Ouellet”.
The Vatican was told about the allegations against Ouellet in 2021 and the pope appointed a priestly investigator, Jacques Servais, to look into the case. Servais subsequently advised against launching a full church investigation, the Vatican said.
Ouellet, who previously served as the archbishop of Quebec City, is among approximately 88 priests and staff members of the Quebec diocese named in the lawsuit released this week.
Canadian media reported that more than 100 victims have alleged in the legal filing that they were victims of sexual assault, mostly when they were minors and predominantly in the 1950s and 1960s.
Ouellet’s accuser – identified in court documents only as “F” – said he inappropriately touched her and made comments that made her feel uncomfortable during events between 2008 and 2010. She was a pastoral intern at the time of the alleged incidents.
“F freezes up as a result of this intrusion and doesn’t know how to react,” the complaint reads, referring to one of the alleged incidents, as reported by Montreal newspaper La Presse. “F is upset and has a sense of uneasiness that stays with her for the rest of the day. She told colleagues about what happened afterwards.”
Ouellet, 78, currently serves as prefect for the Congregation of Bishops, which advises the pope on which priests should be made bishops. He also was once considered a strong candidate to be pope.
The accusations against Ouellet come just weeks after Pope Francis travelled to Canada, including a stop in Quebec City, to apologise for abuses committed by members of the Catholic Church against Indigenous children at residential schools.
The Roman Catholic Church previously held tremendous influence over daily life in Quebec, a predominantly French-speaking province, including in education and health care.
While a majority of people in the province still identify as Catholics, the church plays a much smaller role than it once did in many families’ lives.