Cardinal sues for defamation over accusations of sexual assault

Aleteia [Paris, France]

December 14, 2022

By Cyprien Viet

Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet is suing a woman for defamation, after she accused him of sexual assault in a class action lawsuit. If he wins, the money will go to Indigenous victims.

“I am taking legal action for defamation before the courts of Quebec in order to prove the falsity of the allegations made against me and to restore my reputation and honor,” said Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet in a statement published on December 13, 2022.

The current Prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, who was Archbishop of Quebec from 2002 to 2010, was named in a class action lawsuit on August 16, after being accused of inappropriate touching by a former employee of the diocese. He denounced the “slanderous and defamatory accusations” and is now suing the woman, known only as F., for 100,000 Canadian dollars (about 70,000 euros, 74,000 US dollars) in compensatory damages.

“On August 16, 2022, unfounded accusations of alleged sexual assault were made against me as part of a collective legal action filed in Quebec against the Corporation Archiépiscopale catholique romaine de Québec et l’Archevêque catholique romain de Québec,” stated Cardinal Ouellet, who had already denied the accusations in a statement issued three days after they were made, on August 19. “I want to emphasize that I never committed the acts of which the plaintiff accuses me.” 

The class action lawsuit, which was authorized by the Quebec Superior Court in May 2022, includes 101 apparent victims, which allege cases of sexual assault by around 88 priests or people collaborating with the diocese since 1940.

F. claims that Cardinal Ouellet touched her inappropriately on four occasions,between 2008 and 2010, while she was doing an internship as a pastoral agent. He allegedly held her close to him, massaged her shoulders and on one occasion, “slid” his hand down her back “to her buttocks.”

“I have never been guilty of these reprehensible behaviors, much less of those alleged against other members of the clergy cited in the class action,” said Cardinal Ouellet in his December 13 statement. He also said that he had ensured that the plaintiff’s anonymity would be respected. “This inappropriate association, intentionally constructed and widely spread for improper purposes, must be denounced,” continued the Canadian cardinal.

“Sincere closeness” to victims of sexual abuse

“It is clear that victims of sexual abuse are entitled to just compensation for the harm they have suffered. I am sensitive to their suffering and reiterate my sincere closeness to them,”  the Cardinal said. “Any financial compensation that I may receive as a part of these proceedings will be donated in its entirety in support of the fight against the sexual abuse of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada,” he added. 

The abuse suffered by indigenous children in residential schools was the central theme of Pope Francis’ trip to Canada in July 2022, which Cardinal Ouellet accompanied.

His lawyers state in the lawsuit that Cardinal Ouellet is seeking $100,000 Canadian dollars in compensatory damages. They explain that his international reputation has been damaged by the affair and that the Cardinal has “experienced significant psychological anguish” in the face of these accusations, as “an allegation of sexual assault or misconduct is the worst possible stain” on a member of the clergy.

The “right to justice” of victims of sexual abuse “is not questioned by my taking this stand, which is nevertheless painfully necessary to defend the truth, my reputation and my honor,” insists the Canadian Cardinal in his statement. 

The Pope trusts Cardinal Ouellet

Last August, less than 48 hours after the affair was made public, Pope Francis announced through his press office that there were “insufficient elements to open a canonical investigation for sexual assault by Cardinal Ouellet against the person F.”

The Argentine Pontiff made this decision based on the findings of an investigation he had called for, and entrusted in early 2021 to Father Jacques Servais, and on “further relevant consultations.” 

“Pope Francis determined that there was not sufficient evidence to initiate a canonical investigation against me for sexual assault,” Cardinal Ouellet underlined in his statement.

However, the Pope’s position had caused some criticism across the Atlantic. The lawyer in charge of the class action against the Diocese of Quebec said he sensed an “obvious attempt to cover up” the accusations against Cardinal Ouellet, reported Radio Canada.

Some observers highlighted a possible proximity between the Canadian Cardinal and Father Jacques Servais: A closeness that, as the Canadian media outlet, Présence, argued at the time, would not formally respect the Motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi, enacted by the Vatican in 2019, which stipulates that the investigator must have no conflicts of interest.