Vatican cardinal sues for defamation in Quebec attack claim

Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet leads a procession at the beginning of Mass in the Church of Santa Maria in Rome’s Transpontina church in 2013.Paul Hanna/Reuters

A Vatican cardinal sued a Canadian woman for defamation in a Canadian court Tuesday after she accused him of sexual assault while serving as Quebec archbishop.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Vatican’s bishop’s office, is seeking C$100,000 ($74,000) in compensatory damages for “injuries to his reputation, honor and dignity,” according to a copy of the complaint provided by Ouellet’s office.

The woman, identified only as F., was one of several people who filed a class-action lawsuit against the Quebec archdiocese in August, alleging sexual abuse or assault by several priests, including Ouellet. F. accused Ouellet of inappropriate sexual touching on four occasions in the late 2000s.

Ouellet’s countersuit, filed Tuesday in Quebec Superior Court, reiterated the cardinal’s staunch denials and said he did not recall seeing F.

Even if the allegations are true, the woman’s specific account of her alleged conduct cannot be construed as “sexual assault” or sexual abuse of a minor, which are other crimes included in the class action, his lawsuit said.

“Associating Mr. Ouellet with such conduct creates, in the minds of ordinary citizens, the perception that Mr. Ouellet is one of a kind, which he clearly is not,” Cardinal said in the lawsuit.

It said the woman had experienced “enormous psychological distress” and his international reputation had been “severely damaged” since the woman’s allegations became public.

Pope Francis put the Church’s investigation of Ouellet on hold after a priest investigator interviewed F. and determined there was no reason to investigate further. Investigators determined the woman made no substantiated allegations, the Vatican said.

A call seeking comment from F.’s attorney was not immediately returned.

In a statement, Ouellet said victims of sexual abuse are entitled to justice and reparation, and said he was sensitive to their pain.

“I take this position without questioning their right to justice, which nonetheless is necessary to defend the truth, my name and my honor,” he said.

Any compensation money will be donated to “the fight against sexual abuse of Indigenous people in Canada,” he said.

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