Canadian cardinal in high Vatican office accused of sexual abuse

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The name of Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouelle, 78, appears in the class action suit against 88 members of the Archdiocese of Quebec accused of sexually abusing worshipers. The religious is now prefect of the Congregation for Bishops – a high position in the Vatican – and is touted as one of the possible successors of Pope Francis.

The accusation was made public on Tuesday (16) by an investigative program on Radio-Canada.

According to a woman identified only as “F”, Ouellet improperly touched her several times when she was interning as a pastoral agent between 2008 and 2010. At the time, the cleric was Archbishop of Québec.

In one such case, he told the Canadian program “F”, the cardinal “kissed” her and “slipped his hand” down her back “to her buttocks”.

During the meeting, the cardinal reportedly told her that it was the second time they had seen each other in the week and that he could kiss her again. “It made me very uncomfortable,” said the victim.

On another occasion, Ouellet would have held her against his body and massaged her shoulders to the point where the buttocks begin.” The victim’s accounts were also transcribed by the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CBC).

“I felt persecuted. It became more and more invasive and more and more intense to the point that I stopped participating in events. I tried to avoid being in his presence as much as possible,” she said.

The investigative program also heard from a priest who confirmed the existence of rumors of sexual harassment at the time when Ouellet commanded the Archdiocese of Quebec. In 2010, the cardinal moved to Rome, still in the papacy of Benedict 16.

Contacted by the AFP news agency, the archdiocese said it had “taken note of the accusations against the cardinal”, but would not comment on the matter.

The collective action released on Thursday shows that the harassment cases had already been officially reported to the Vatican in 2021 – eleven years after the episodes. At the time, the complaints were made to the committee in charge of investigating sexual abuse in the archdiocese.

According to the CBC, a virtual meeting has been scheduled between the victim and the Vatican, but “F” says he has not been informed about the stage of the investigation.

In addition to the charges against Ouellet, another 100 people say they have been sexually assaulted by members of the clergy and archdiocese officials since June 1940. Most of the cases took place in the 1950s and 1960s, when the victims were minors.

The revelations come three weeks after a visit by Pope Francis to Canada. At the time, he apologized for abuses by Church members at boarding schools for indigenous people. Religious institutions were designed to erase indigenous culture and forcibly separated at least 150,000 children from their families to assimilate them to Western customs between 1880 and 1990. There are also reports of children being sexually abused, beaten and left hungry. The National Truth Commission created by the state to investigate the case described it as cultural genocide.

In February, during a symposium at the Vatican also in the presence of Francis, Ouellet cited the “drama of sexual abuse committed by clerics” and criticized “the criminal behavior that has been covered up for a long time to protect the institution”.

“We are all divided and humbled by these crucial issues that challenge us every day as members of the Church,” he said at the time.

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