The Canadian Cardinal announced he considers the recent accusations defamatory and volunteers to cooperate if a civil investigation is opened.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet “firmly denies having made any inappropriate gestures” toward a complainant between 2008 and 2010, he wrote in a statement released August 19, 2022 by the Holy See. The former archbishop of Quebec said he would be willing to participate in a civil investigation in Canada if one were to be launched. The statement by the prefect of the dicastery for bishops follows the filing of a class action suit in Canada on August 16 accusing him of sexual assault.
“Having learned of the false accusations made against me by the complainant (F.), I firmly deny having made any inappropriate gestures toward her and I consider defamatory the interpretation and dissemination of these allegations as sexual assault,” said the former Archbishop of Quebec from 2002 to 2010 in the statement, which was released in French and Italian.
“If a civil investigation is opened, I will actively participate so that the truth is established and my innocence is recognized,” he concluded. The legal action is being brought by 101 alleged victims who have confided that they were assaulted by approximately 88 priests or persons of the diocese between 1940 and today.
One of the alleged victims, called ‘F’, claims that Cardinal Ouellet made inappropriate gestures towards her between 2008 and 2010 while she was doing an internship as a pastoral worker. He allegedly held her close, massaged her shoulders and, on one occasion, “slid his hand” down her back “to her buttocks.”
On Thursday, less than 48 hours after the affair was made public, Pope Francis announced through his press office that there were “not enough elements to open a canonical investigation for sexual assault by Cardinal Ouellet against the person ‘F.'” In making this decision, the Argentine pontiff based his decision on the findings of an investigation he had entrusted to Father Jacques Servais at the beginning of 2021, as well as on “other relevant consultations.”
Accusations of a cover-up?
The Argentine pope’s statement has drawn criticism from across the Atlantic. The lawyer in charge of the class-action suit against the Quebec diocese said he sensed an “obvious attempt at a cover-up” around the charges against Cardinal Ouellet, Radio Canada reported.
Some voices have pointed to the possible proximity between the Canadian cardinal and Father Jacques Servais, S.J. A proximity that, as the Canadian media Présence argues, would not formally respect the Motu proprio “Vos estis lux mundi” enacted by the Vatican in 2019 and which provides that the investigator does not have conflicts of interest.
If a canonical procedure will not be opened, the case should continue in Canadian civil justice, lawyers assure. “They [the diocese] wanted to negotiate a settlement. With this, they won’t want to negotiate anymore. It’s perfect. Cardinal Ouellet will be [on the witness stand] at some point, and it will be nice for me to cross-examine him,” Arsenault told the Journal de Québec.