Quebec priest named in sexual assault lawsuit removed years after allegations first flagged

CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) [Toronto, Canada]

August 17, 2022

By Émilie Warren

Alleged victim says Léopold Manirabarusha assaulted her more than 15 times

WARNING: This article contains details of abuse.

The archdiocese of Quebec removed a priest accused of sexual assault from his post in April of this year, just months after an alleged victim filed an official complaint against him.

But court documents from a new civil lawsuit against the archdiocese show at least one parish official knew of allegations against him more than four years earlier.

Details of the allegations against Léopold Manirabarusha were made public Tuesday in a class action that represents more than 100 victims. Some 88 members of the clergy are named in the lawsuit.

The allegations date back to 2016 and were made by a woman in her 30s who was working as a pastoral agent in Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, a town just west of Quebec City, at the time.

The woman, identified only as “F” in the court documents, is the same woman who accused the former archbishop of Quebec, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, of sexual assault.

The alleged victim said in the lawsuit that Manirabarusha took her into his library one day and told her to perform oral sex. She said she felt obliged to do it as she couldn’t see a way out of the situation. The priest was her immediate supervisor at the time.

“F” alleges Manirabarusha forced her to have sexual contacts with him at least 15 more times after that at his residence or a hotel, always in secret. The lawsuit says she was afraid of speaking out for fear of professional reprisals.

But according to court documents, the woman did tell the former head of the Cap-Rouge parish council, Francine Dorval, about the situation in 2017.

The lawsuit says Manirabarusha denied the allegations. The plaintiff alleges she continued to be assaulted by the priest until she quit her job at the parish in the spring of 2018.

It was only on Apr. 9, 2022, a few months after “F” filed an official complaint with the diocese, that Manirabarusha was removed from all his functions. By then, the priest had been transferred to work at three parishes in Lévis, just across the St. Lawrence River from Quebec City.

Priest Léopold Manirabarusha, pictured here on the far right of the billboard, started working for the archdiocese of Quebec in the late 1990s. (Louis-Simon Lapointe/Radio-Canada)
Priest Léopold Manirabarusha, pictured here on the far right of the billboard, started working for the archdiocese of Quebec in the late 1990s. (Louis-Simon Lapointe/Radio-Canada)

In a letter sent out on April 7, auxiliary Bishop Marc Pelchat told the parishes that Manirabarusha would be suspended for an indefinite period.

“Inappropriate behaviours having been signalled to us, we had to take the painful decision to remove Abbot Léopold from the ministry for now until the situation is clarified,” the letter reads.

The diocese also edited Manirabarusha out of some promotional pictures it has on its website, though a photo with the priest still appears on a billboard outside the Saint-Augustin church.

In an email, the archdiocese of Quebec confirmed that Manirabarusha no longer holds any position or official responsibilities, though he remains an ordained priest.

But it declined to say why the priest was suspended or transferred to Lévis. It also declined to comment on the allegations as the case is before the courts.

The allegations against Manirabarusha have not been proven in court and the priest is not facing any criminal charges.

Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. ​​If you’re in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.

With files from Simon Nakonechny, Audrey Paris, Louis-Simon