Cardinal Marc Ouellet is among 88 members of the clergy facing sexual assault allegations
The name of a prominent Vatican cardinal, who is regarded as a potential successor to Pope Francis, appears on a list made public as part of a new class action against the diocese of Quebec.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who was the archbishop of Quebec when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was taking place, is among some 88 members of the clergy who are facing allegations of sexual assault.
The civil lawsuit represents more than 100 victims who were allegedly sexually assaulted, most of them minors, by priests and other staff working for the diocese since 1940. According to the class action documents, most assaults allegedly occurred in the ’50s and ’60s.
Ouellet is the most prominent person among those listed in the class action and the one with the highest-ranking position in the Catholic Church. The cardinal is not facing any criminal accusations.
His alleged victim, identified as “F” in the documents, was doing an internship as a pastoral agent from 2008 to 2010 when she alleged the assaults occurred. She says they took place during public events.
“He grabbed me and then … his hands on my back, they went down pretty low,” said the complainant, who shared her version of what happened to Radio-Canada’s Enquête team last spring.
“Quite intrusive for, let’s say for someone who is my superior, who is the archbishop of Quebec.”
During that encounter, the cardinal allegedly told her it was the second time they had seen each other that week, and he might as well kiss her on the cheek since there is no harm in treating himself a little.
“That made me very uncomfortable, especially the word ‘treating’ himself. As if I was his treat,” she said.
In an email to Radio-Canada, the diocese of Quebec said that it is aware of the allegations against Ouellet but declined to issue further comments.
At the time of the alleged assaults, Ouellet was the archbishop and the head of the diocese. Alain Arseneault, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, had the final say in who was hired as a pastoral agent.
“You have at that time a young woman in her mid-20s versus a powerful man in a position of authority, known worldwide at the time, who was maybe 60,” he said. “Like most victims, she froze.”
When “F” spoke about her uneasiness with those around her, she was told that the cardinal was a warm man and that she wasn’t the only woman who faced this “problem with him,” the class action reads.
Despite the fact that Ouellet’s allegations seem less serious physically than those cited in the class action, Arsenault believes the impact on the victim is just as profound.
“It’s hard to imagine that someone with his intelligence, in his position, was unaware of what he was doing and the consequences it could have,” he said.
After a troubling encounter with another priest ten years later, the woman decided to tell the committee in charge of reviewing sexual allegations within the diocese of Quebec.
She said members of the committee told her both cases were cases of sexual misconduct and allegedly encouraged her to file a complaint.
It’s only then that the committee learned one of the priests was Cardinal Ouellet, as the woman had not shared the men’s names beforehand.
The complaint against Ouellet was filed directly to the Vatican in 2021. It was assigned to priest Jacques Servais, a theologian tasked with investigating the matter. A virtual meeting was arranged between the victim and the Vatican, but one year-and-a-half later, the woman said she still hasn’t been informed of the conclusion of the investigation.
Researchers have found that institutional sexual abuse is prevalent and often goes unreported for a long time. That is especially the case with religious institutions where perpetrators use trust, faith and authority to groom victims and keep abuse secret.