ROME – The Vatican said Thursday that a preliminary church investigation into sexual assault allegations by a Canadian woman against a top cardinal, Marc Ouellet, has determined the case doesn’t warrant further investigation.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni issued a statement responding to reports this week that Ouellet was one of several people named in a class-action lawsuit against the archdiocese of Quebec that accused several priests of sexual abuse or assault.
Ouellet, 78, headed the Quebec archdiocese from 2002-2010, when he became the powerful prefect of the Vatican's bishops' office. In that job, he oversees all of the Catholic Church's investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct involving adults and bishops or cardinals.
Bruni confirmed allegations against Ouellet were received by the Vatican and investigated by a Jesuit theologian, the Rev. Jacques Servais. Servais determined there were no grounds to proceed further with a canonical investigation or trial, Bruni said.
Asked about the lawsuit, Servais said he came to that conclusion after having read the written allegations by the woman, identified as “F,” and having interviewed her via Zoom with a member of a diocesan committee present.
“This person didn’t bring forward an accusation that could provide material for an investigation,” the Vatican's statement quoted Servais as saying.
As such, Pope Francis “declared that there are not sufficient elements to open a canonical investigation for sexual aggression by Cardinal Ouellet against F,” Bruni’s statement said.
The Catholic Church has fine-tuned procedures to investigate and sanction priests accused of sexual misconduct with minors, but it rarely takes punitive action against clerics accused of sexual misconduct with adults.
The woman was quoted by the Canadian Press and other media as accusing Ouellet of several incidents of unwanted touching, including sliding his hand down her back and touching her buttocks at a 2010 event in Quebec City.
Justin Wee, a lawyer for the woman, said his client is determined to prove her allegations in civil court.
“She’s very disappointed,” he said.” But she knows there’s no other choice but to go to civil court.”
Wee said she 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 tookt her complaint to the Archdiocese of Quebec.
The archdiocese declined to comment on the suit because it is before the court.