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NEW YORK – Pope Francis on Jan. 30 accepted the resignation of Cardinal Marc Ouellet as prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, and tapped Bishop Robert Francis Prevost, a Chicago native who currently leads the Diocese of Chiclayo in Peru, to take over the department responsible for bishop appointments.
Ouellet, 78, is currently facing two allegations of sexual misconduct from adult women, both of which he has denied.
The Dicastery for Bishops traditionally has been considered one of the Vatican’s most powerful departments, as it advises the pope on the appointment of new bishops around the world. While the pope theoretically is free to name anyone he wants, in most cases he accepts the top choice presented by the discastery.
Prevost, 67, has led Chiclayo since 2015. Prior to that, he served as a regional and global head of the Augustinian order, and spent many years as a missionary in Peru after his ordination in 1982. He has degrees from Villanova University and the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, as well as a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome.
Prevost isn’t new to the Dicastery of Bishops, having been a member of the department since 2020.
The bishop will also succeed Ouellet as president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. The commission, situated within the Dicastery for Bishops, was established in 1958 by Pope Pius XII to study the church in Latin America, where nearly 40 percent of the world’s Catholics reside.
Prevost starts in his new role on April 12, and will receive the title of archbishop. When the bishop takes office he will also take the title of Archbishop-Bishop emeritus of Chiclayo.
The Vatican announcement states that Francis accepted the resignation of Ouellet because of his age. At 78-years-old, the Canadian Cardinal is three years clear of the traditional clergy retirement age of 75.
Ouellet was one of the most prominent figures in shaping the outlook of the global Catholic hierarchy in his 12 years leading the department. He was appointed to the role by Pope Benedict XVI in June 2010.
Through Francis’ pontificate that began in 2013, Ouellet has been at the helm of the Dicastery for Bishops through multiple major reforms, including the implementation of Vos estis lux mundi in 2019, which are global standards for reporting and investigating clergy abuse, and Praedicate Evangelium this past June, which was a new constitution of the Catholic Church’s central government.
Ouellet has, however, found himself at the center of some controversy in recent months. He was named in a class action lawsuit levied on the Archdiocese of Quebec back in August, in which 101 alleged victims accused 88 prelates of sexual abuse and assault dating back decades.
Ouellet has denied an allegation of sexual assault against him, and in December filed a countersuit against the woman seeking $100,000 in damages for “injury to his reputation, honor and dignity.” He has promised to donate any damages won to the “fight against abuse of indigenous peoples in Canada.”
Prevost’s Jan. 30 appointment is the second major Vatican department to get new leadership since Praedicate Evangelium went into effect this past June. In September, he chose Portuguese Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça to lead the new Dicastery for Culture and Education.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg