The Vatican said Thursday it will not hold a trial against Cardinal Marc Ouellet over allegations he sexually assaulted a woman.
Newsroom (20/08/2022 11:51 AM Gaudium Press) Card. Ouellet, Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Bishops, was accused of sexual assault in a civil suit filed this week against the Archdiocese of Quebec.
A Vatican spokesman said on Aug. 18 that the conclusion of a preliminary investigation by Father Jacques Servais, SJ, found “that there are no elements to initiate a trial against Cardinal Ouellet for sexual assault.”
AFP reported that a class action suit, filed Aug. 16, includes the testimony of 101 people who say they were sexually assaulted by clerics or Church staff from 1940 to the present. Eighty-eight clerics face accusations in the suit.
Ouellet is accused by a woman who says that he assaulted her multiple times while she worked as a pastoral intern for the Quebec archdiocese between 2008 and 2010, while he was Archbishop of Quebec. She described him kissing her and sliding his hand down her back to her buttock.
The Vatican statement included a quote in French from Servais, the Vatican investigator, who said that “there are no grounds to open an investigation into the sexual assault of F. by Card. M. Ouellet. Neither in his written report sent to the Holy Father nor in the testimony via Zoom that I subsequently took in the presence of a member of the Diocesan Ad Hoc Committee, did this person make an accusation that would provide grounds for such an investigation.”
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni added that “following further pertinent consultations, Pope Francis declares that there are insufficient elements to open a canonical investigation for sexual assault by Cardinal Ouellet against person F.”
The woman’s attorney told The Pillar Thursday afternoon (Aug. 18, 2022) that his client “is very disappointed, but she is determined to continue, and if there is no canon law trial, it will be civil court where she will testify, and try to convince [the court] that what happened was real.”
The attorney, Justin Wee, confirmed that “in March 2021, Fr. Servais met – by internet – our client, F. That was the only meeting.”
“During the meeting, she thought that he was not that ready to receive her complaint, and that he wasn’t that formed for that kind of investigation. She felt that he was more looking for the motives of our client, instead of trying to understand what happened,” Wee added.
The attorney pushed back on the idea that the alleged embraces and kisses on the cheek might have been the type used in ordinary social convention in Quebec culture.
“It wasn’t only a kiss on the cheek, it was also a way of touching, caressing her shoulders and her back,” Wee said.
“It wasn’t the cultural way, as some might think.”
The lawyer explained that his client, working for the Church in Quebec in 2020, realized while she was undergoing diocesan-sponsored safe environment training that Oullet’s alleged conduct a decade prior seemed to meet the training’s definition of sexual assault.
He said his client contacted the archdiocesan review board, who allegedly agreed that the conduct met the definition of sexual assault. After that communication, Wee said, his client wrote to Pope Francis at the board’s suggestion.
Wee also pushed back on the idea, floated in some Church circles, that his client’s allegations against Ouellet might be politically motivated, or intended to deflate his prospect of being elected to the papacy.
“It’s not a political game. It’s only someone who has been disappointed by the process,” Wee said.
“There is no reasonable ground for that kind of allegation,” he added.
“Our client decided to write to the pope first. She didn’t want to call the lawyers first. She did it because one year and a half later, she still had no news.”
“She saw that our class action lawsuit had been certified in April, so that’s why she wrote to us, but before, we didn’t even know that those kinds of abuses by Cardinal Ouellet had taken place.”
The lawyer said that the Vatican’s Thursday press release was evidence of the mishandling of her complaint.
“Even today, they decided to release a press communique instead of calling her,” he said.
“It says a lot about how you have to be respectful for a victim who is filing a complaint. Why didn’t they call her just before? This is her story.”
The same woman has also alleged that between 2016 and 2018, she was pressured into performing oral sex at least 15 times on a priest, Fr. Léopold Manirabarusha, who was at the time her boss – the pastor of the Quebec area parish at which she worked.
The woman says she told the head of the parish council about the coercion in 2017 but claims the priest denied the allegations and continued to assault her until she quit the job in 2018.
Manirabarusha was removed from priestly ministry in April 2022 after the woman made a report to the archdiocese about the alleged assault.
– Raju Hasmukh
(Via CNA and Pillar)