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NEW YORK – Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Vatican’s powerful Dicastery for Bishops, has filed a countersuit against a woman who accused him of sexual assault more than a decade ago, and has promised to donate any damages won to “the fight against sexual abuse of indigenous peoples in Canada.”
Ouellet is seeking $100,000 in damages for “injury to his reputation, honor and dignity,” according to a copy of the lawsuit, which filed on Tuesday, Dec. 13, in Montréal Superior Court. The claim stems from the period from 2002 to 2010 when he served as the Archbishop of Quebec.
Ouellet was named in a class-action lawsuit against the archdiocese in August, in which 101 alleged victims accused 88 prelates of sexual abuse and assault dating back decades. The Canadian cardinal denied the allegations at the time of the lawsuit, and again on Dec. 13.
Ouellet was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 Prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops and President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. He maintains both roles under Pope Francis.
The woman, only identified as “Ms. F., alleged that Ouellet inappropriately touched her and made her uncomfortable with his comments on four occasions in the late 2000s. Following an investigation in August, Pope Francis concluded that “there are insufficient elements to open a canonical investigation for sexual assault by Cardinal Ouellet against person F.”
The countersuit claims that the “false” allegations made by the woman continue to cause “serious damage” to Ouellet’s personal and professional reputation, citing 13 countries and six languages in which the allegations have been reported since August. It adds that Ms. F. and her attorneys also gave several interviews to the media where they repeated the allegations, “thereby ensuring even greater dissemination of such defamatory statements.”
“Mr. Ouellet’s international reputation is therefore seriously tarnished by these false allegations,” states the countersuit. “On a more personal level, Mr. Ouellet has experienced significant psychological anguish since the filing of the Application and the Complaint.”
The countersuit maintains that Ouellet has no recollection of ever meeting the woman, and that he does not know her. It also contests that even if her allegations were true, the behaviors she described are “not similar in nature” to the other crimes in the class-action lawsuit, which include sexual assault and sexual abuse of minors.
“To have associated Mr. Ouellet with individuals who would have committed acts of such a nature constitutes negligence,” the countersuit states. “This is so, because the ordinary citizen will perceive that all the reproaches made against the ecclesiastics named in the Application are of the same nature, as they are grouped under the same procedure.”
In a statement, Ouellet said that “victims of sexual abuse are entitled to just compensation for the harm they have suffered,” and that he is sensitive to their suffering and close to them. He added, however, that filing the countersuit was “painfully necessary to defend the truth, my reputation and my honor.”
Ouellet’s choice to devote any damages he may win to the cause of ending abuse of indigenous persons reflects the upheaval in Canada over the past year related to revelations of wide-scale abuse at church-run residential schools in the 19th and early 20th centuries. During a week-long trip to Canada in July, Pope Francis repeatedly apologized for that legacy of abuse.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg