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Pope dismisses sexual assault investigation into Canadian cardinal

#Pope #dismisses #sexual #assault #investigation #Canadian #cardinal

Pope Francis has ruled out a formal church investigation into a sexual assault lawsuit against Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet after a preliminary investigation found no basis for it, the Vatican said Thursday.

Ouellet, himself once considered a strong candidate for the pope, was named in court documents this week in connection with a class-action lawsuit against more than 80 members of the clergy in the Archdiocese of Quebec.

The 78-year-old is accused of molesting an intern identified only as “F” from 2008 to 2010, when he was Archbishop of Quebec.

In the Vatican’s first public response to the civil lawsuit, spokesman Matteo Bruni said a “preliminary investigation” already ordered by Pope Francis had found that “there were no elements to initiate a trial.”

He said the Pope had re-consulted the author of this investigation, a Father Jacques Servais, and he was again told that there was no reason to launch a formal investigation.

“Following further relevant consultations, Pope Francis states that there are insufficient elements to open a canonical inquiry into Cardinal Ouellet’s sexual assault against Person F,” the statement said.

– ‘Tracked’ –

Ouellet is prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, one of the most important positions within the Curia, the government of the Vatican.

The charges against him in the civil suit that the Quebec Supreme Court could hear in May follow testimony from 101 people who say they have been sexually assaulted by members of the clergy and church personnel from 1940 to the present.

They emerged just weeks after Pope Francis visited Canada, where he apologized for decades of abuse of indigenous children in Catholic-run boarding schools.

So far, the cardinal has not been prosecuted.

Ouellet’s accuser claims the cardinal attacked her on several occasions – kissing her, massaging her shoulders “vigorously” and once sliding his hand down her back to her buttocks.

She says she felt like she was being “hunted,” the documents say. When the woman tried to address the issue, she was told she was not the only woman to have such a “problem” with Ouellet, documents show.

It was not until 2020 that F., who says she was also sexually abused by another clergyman, spoke before the Quebec Church’s Sexual Abuse Advisory Committee.

It recommended her to write to the Pope, who responded in 2021 by nominating Servais to investigate the case. His conclusions had not yet been communicated to her.

According to the Vatican statement on Thursday, Servais said he interviewed the woman via Zoom in the presence of a member of the committee.

He was quoted as saying that neither in her report to the Pope nor in the testimonies he heard did “this person advance any charge which would furnish material for such an investigation”.

In February, Ouellet opened a Vatican symposium on priesthood before an audience that included Pope Francis, apologizing for “unworthy” clergy and the cover-up of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

“We are all heartbroken and humbled by these vital questions that challenge us every day as members of the Church,” Ouellet said at the time.

He said the symposium was an opportunity to express regret and seek forgiveness from victims after their lives were “shattered by abusive and criminal conduct” that was hidden or handled lightly to protect the institution and perpetrators.

Since becoming pope in 2013, Francis has sought to address decades of sex abuse scandals, though many anti-pedophilia activists insist much more needs to be done.

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