Pope says not enough evidence to open sex assault probe against Quebec cardinal

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MONTREAL — There is not enough evidence to open a formal church investigation into sexual assault allegations against a prominent Quebec cardinal, Pope Francis declared Thursday.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, an adviser to the Pope, has been accused of sexual misconduct in a class-action lawsuit filed earlier this week in Quebec Superior Court. A woman identified as "F." accused the cardinal, once considered a front-runner to become pope, of several incidents of sexual assault between 2008 and 2010, including sliding his hand down her back and touching her buttocks at an event in Quebec City.

The lawsuit, which has not been tested in court, says the woman wrote a letter to Pope Francis in January 2021 regarding Ouellet and was informed that the Pope appointed Father Jacques Servais to conduct a preliminary investigation into her allegations.

Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See press office, issued a statement on Thursday quoting Servais, who said, "there are no grounds to open an investigation into a sexual assault of person F. by (Cardinal) Ouellet."

Servais said that neither in the letter F. sent to the Pope "nor in the testimony via Zoom that I subsequently collected in the presence of a member of the ad hoc diocesan committee, did this person make any accusation that would provide grounds for such an investigation."

Bruni said that following consultations, "Pope Francis declares that there are insufficient elements to open a canonical investigation for sexual assault by Cardinal Ouellet against the person F."

Justin Wee, a lawyer for F., said in an interview Thursday his client is "determined" to prove her allegations in civil court.

"She's very disappointed," he said of the Pope's decision, "but she knows there's no other choice but to go to civil court."

Wee said F. did not bring her complaint to the police.

"It's up to her," he said when asked why she didn't go to the police, adding that she initially brought her complaint to the Archdiocese of Quebec.

According to court filings, the last communication between Servais and F. took place March 24, 2021. Wee said he wonders why the Holy See waited until two days after the allegations were made public to give F. an update on the investigation.

"If the evidence was so insufficient, why didn't the Vatican call back our client to ask more questions?" Wee said.

"Why did she have to wait so long before having any news about the investigation that was started in January 2021?"

The lawsuit alleges that Servais seemed to have "little information and training about sexual assault" and that he may be too close to Ouellet.

The class action in which Ouellet is named includes 101 alleged victims who have accused about 88 priests or diocesan staff of sexual assault. In the suit, F. also claims that she was sexually assaulted by another cleric, Abbot Léopold Manirabarusha, on more than 15 occasions.

The archdiocese of Quebec declined to comment on the suit because it is before the court.

The lawsuit is one of two class actions that were formally filed this week by Montreal-based law firm Arsenault Dufresne Wee Avocats against members of the Catholic Church in Quebec.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 18, 2022.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press