Instead, the news service said Pope Francis accepted Ouellet’s resignation “when he reached the age limit” for cardinals, which is 75. Ouellet, 78, hit the limit a few years ago — but so did several other heads of major Vatican departments, according to the independent National Catholic Reporter.
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His retirement could bring a closer look at the allegations. It also draws attention to Francis’ handling of the case, coming just a week after the Catholic leader told an interviewer he wanted more “transparency” in the church’s handling of abuse.
Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of advocacy group BishopAccountability.org, noted that the announcement came less than two weeks after a French Catholic publication reported new sexual abuse allegations against Ouellet.
“The moment is suggestive and raises troubling questions about the pope’s possible complicity,” Barrett Doyle said in a statement. She said Francis should be more transparent: “Is his dismissal a sanction?
Ouellet was once considered a reformer within the Vatican on issues of abuse. He called the child sexual abuse outrage that engulfed the Catholic Church in Canada a “source of great shame and enormous scandal” in 2012 and said the church’s handling of the allegations was ” often inadequate.
But in August last year, a class action lawsuit filed against the Archdiocese of Quebec detailed new charges against him personally.
In the lawsuit, Ouellet was accused of inappropriate touching, including kissing, massaging and remarking, by a woman initially identified only as “F”. According to the lawsuit, the incidents began about 15 years ago, when Ouellet was archbishop of Quebec and the woman was a pastoral intern.
Paméla Groleau later came out publicly as “F” and said she faced “threats and intimidation” from the Catholic Church. Ouellet denied all the allegations. In December, he took the highly unusual step of suing Groleau for defamation, seeking $100,000 in damages.
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Catholic publication Golias Hebdo reported this month on a second allegation of sexual misconduct against Ouellet in 2020. The French weekly published a 2021 letter from Cardinal Gérald Lacroix, the current Archbishop of Quebec, telling the anonymous complainant that the allegations were not being pursued.
In a statement released to Canadian media after the report’s release, Ouellet denied the allegations and said he had “nothing to hide,” with no charges filed against him in civil or criminal court.
The allegations against Ouellet are embarrassing for Francis, not only because he was considered a close ally of the pope in the Vatican. Although Ouellet was appointed by Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, Francis retained Ouellet well beyond his regular five-year term.
Ouellet has also been the face of several Vatican responses to allegations of abuse, including the alleged sexual misconduct of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who served as Archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006. Ouellet initially dismissed the allegations against McCarrick as a “political conspiracy that lacks any real basis.”
A church investigation and trial found McCarrick guilty of “sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults” and removed him from the clergy. He is the highest ranking member of the church known to have been laicized.
Groleau reported Ouellet to the Vatican in 2020 and contacted Francis himself in 2021, according to the class action. In a statement responding to the lawsuit, the Vatican said Francis determined there were “insufficient grounds” for a canonical investigation.
It soon appeared that the Vatican had entrusted the investigation of the affair to a priest, the Reverend Jacques Servais, who knew Ouellet well and with whom he was a colleague of a small religious association.