Cardinal Ouellet: Allegations Against Me Are Defamatory

Canadian prelate denied on Aug. 19 having made inappropriate gestures on a woman who has alleged he sexually assaulted her.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, c, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, listens while Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, reads a statement at a press conference on Nov. 11, 2010.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet, c, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, listens while Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, reads a statement at a press conference on Nov. 11, 2010. (photo: CNA)

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, on Friday denied having made inappropriate gestures on a woman who has alleged he sexually assaulted her.

“Having become aware of the false accusations made against me by the complainant (F.), I firmly deny having made inappropriate acts on her person and I consider the interpretation and dissemination of these allegations as sexual assaults defamatory,” Cardinal Ouellet said Aug. 19.

“If a civil investigation should be opened, I will actively participate in it so that the truth is established and my innocence is recognized.”

Cardinal Ouellet was accused of sexual assault by a woman identified as F. in a civil suit filed against the Archdiocese of Quebec Aug. 16.

He 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.

A Vatican spokesman said Aug. 18 that the conclusion of a preliminary investigation by Jesuit Father Jacques Servais found “that there are no elements to initiate a trial against Cardinal Ouellet for sexual assault.”

The Vatican statement included a quote in French from Father Servais, 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 class-action suit in which the allegations were made 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.

The suit says that F. wrote to Pope Francis about Cardinal Ouellet in January 2021, and she received an email Feb. 23, 2021, saying that the Vatican had appointed Father Servais to investigate the cardinal. Her last communication with Father Servais was the following month, and as of now, “no conclusion concerning the complaints against Cardinal Marc Ouellet has been sent” to her.

Cardinal Ouellet, 78, was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Amos, Quebec, in 1968, at age 23. He joined the Sulpicians in 1972. In 2001 he was appointed secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and consecrated a bishop.

He served as archbishop of Quebec from 2002 to 2010, when he was appointed prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

Cardinal Ouellet has been outspoken about sex abuse and priestly formation.

At a 2018 meeting of the presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe, he said, “We would need participation of more women in [training] of priests” to prevent abuse.

He reiterated this point in a 2020 interview with Donne Chiesa Mondo, saying, “for the priest, learning to relate to women in the context of formation is a humanizing factor which promotes the balance of man’s personality and affectivity.”

The cardinal said he thought the Church would benefit greatly from an increased presence of women on seminary formation teams, as theology, philosophy and spirituality teachers, and “in particular in vocational discernment.”

Cardinal Ouellet verbally sparred with Archbishop Carlo Viganò as details of Vatican knowledge of Theodore McCarrick emerged in recent years. 

In an October 2018 letter, Cardinal Ouellet said it was communicated to Archbishop Viganò in 2011 that McCarrick “had to obey certain conditions and restrictions because of rumors about his behavior in the past” and that he “was strongly urged not to travel and not to appear in public, in order not to provoke further rumors about him. It is false to present the measures taken against him as ‘sanctions’ decreed by Pope Benedict XVI and annulled by Pope Francis.”

And in January 2019, Cardinal Ouellet wrote that his congregation had blocked the U.S. bishops from voting on proposals to address the sex-abuse crisis that November because it believed more time was needed to discuss the measures.