Canadian cardinal ‘strongly denies’ sexual assault allegations

Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet firmly denied the allegations of sexual assault against him on Friday and said he was ready to prove his “innocence”.
Ouellet is accused of having abused an intern, identified only by “F”, from 2008 to 2010, when he was archbishop of Quebec.

The 78-year-old, who was once seen as a strong candidate to be pope, was named in court documents this week relating to a class-action lawsuit targeting more than 80 clergy in the Archdiocese of Quebec.

He dismissed the charges in a statement, a day after the Vatican said it ruled out an official church investigation.

“Having learned of the false accusations made against me by the complainant, I strongly deny having made inappropriate gestures towards her,” he said.

“I consider the interpretation and dissemination of these sexual assault allegations to be defamatory.

“If a civil investigation is opened, I will participate actively so that the truth is established and that my innocence is recognized”, indicates the press release in French and Italian published on the Vatican website.

The charges against him in the civil lawsuit, which the Supreme Court of Quebec says could go ahead in May, are among testimonies from 101 people who say they were sexually assaulted by clergy and staff. church from 1940 to today.

They resurfaced just weeks after Pope Francis visited Canada, where he apologized for the decades-long mistreatment of Indigenous children in Catholic residential schools.

So far, the cardinal does not face criminal charges.

No grounds for formal investigation

Ouellet’s denial comes a day after Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said a “preliminary investigation” already ordered by Pope Francis revealed that there was “no element to open a trial”.

The pontiff returned to see the author of this investigation, Father Jacques Servais, and was told again that there was no need to open a formal investigation.

Ouellet is prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, one of the most important functions within the Curia, the government of the Vatican.

Her accuser claims the Cardinal repeatedly assaulted her – kissing her, “forcefully” massaging her shoulders and once sliding his hand down her back to her buttocks.

According to the Vatican statement on Thursday, Servais said he interviewed the woman via Zoom in the presence of a member of the committee.

He was quoted as saying that neither in his report to the pope, nor in the testimony he heard, “did this person make an accusation which would furnish material for such an investigation”.

Since becoming pope in 2013, Francis has sought to tackle decades-long sex abuse scandals, although critics insist more needs to be done.

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