Vatican's dismissal fuels victims' desire for justice

The Vatican's dismissal heightens the victims' desire for justice

The reactions oscillate between disappointment and bitterness after the decision by Pope Francis to exclude a new investigation against Quebec Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who is the subject of sexual assault allegations.

Pope Francis has ruled out the opening of an investigation by the Catholic Church against Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who is the subject of sexual assault allegations.< /p>

Camouflage attempt for some, strategic caution for others. The Vatican's refusal to open an investigation into allegations against Cardinal Ouellet encourages class action representatives to continue their fight against the abusive priests through the courts.

It has been the position of the Church all along to deny, deny, deny. To take priests, to change their parish, to send them on leave, to cover things up, summarizes bluntly Me Alain Arsenault. The lawyer responsible for the class action against the diocese of Quebec foresees an obvious attempt to cover up the accusations involving Cardinal Ouellet.

As prefect of the Congregation of Bishops since 2010, this strong man of the Vatican is responsible for selecting the bishops who will be appointed by the pope. His power obviously played a role in the pope's decision not to incriminate him, argues Me Arsenault.

The attorney is notably representing a plaintiff who accuses the prominent cleric of inappropriate behavior and harassment, the class action documents say. By refusing to hold a more in-depth investigation, the Vatican would have bet on the power of silence, according to him. It's part of an operation: we won't talk about it, she's going to stop, she's a believer […], so they hoped that she would give up [will] sue the diocese.

Even if he plans to file a lawsuit, the defender of the alleged victims does not exclude the possibility of an amicable settlement with the diocese of Quebec, which will now have to take into account the specific charges brought against him. Cardinal Ouellet, he argues.

The lawyer warns that the complainant does not intend to give in to her legal fight and also encourages the other victims to priests to file a complaint.

We could find ourselves in the position: we have a settlement that includes [the plaintiff accusing the cardinal], which is organized, despite the fact that Pope Francis says that there is no reason to [investigate], explains Alain Arsenault at Radio-Canada.

The lawyer is now awaiting the reaction of the diocese of Quebec as well as a copy of the report that guided Pope Francis' decision. But in the meantime, we are going to go to trial, assures the lawyer in an interview with ICI RDI.

Joined in turn by Radio-Canada to obtain a copy of the said document, the diocese of Quebec replied through its communications department that none of us have seen this report.

In the eyes of Sébastien Richard, spokesperson for the victims of religious in Quebec, the decision of the sovereign pontiff illustrates well the feudal structure of the Church from the Middle Ages where the pope embodies both the legislature, the judiciary and the executive. In particular, he denounced a conflict of interest between the investigator appointed by the pope, Father Jacques Servais, and Cardinal Ouellet.

I'm not surprised there were no Vatican accusations, he said, the two were close. The two ecclesiastics are in fact members of the Lubac-Balthasar-Speyr Association, chaired by Mr. Servais.

The investigation targeting the cardinal was triggered in early 2021, following a complaint sent to the Vatican. A year and a half later, the director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Matteo Bruni, transmitted the conclusions stipulating that there are no elements allowing to open a lawsuit against Cardinal Ouellet for sexual assault.

For religious expert Christophe Henning, the Vatican made a decision without digging deep into the case: If there was a Servais report , the Vatican deposited it on a pile which will have many others later, analyzes Mr. Henning.

“We know it , victims of sexual assault take a long time to recover from their injuries, and filing a complaint is an ordeal for them. »

— Christophe Henning, religious expert at the newspaper La Croix

The legal proceedings are only in their infancy, he says, which is also foreseen by Louis Rousseau, a former professor at the Department of Religious Studies at UQAM. He explains in turn that the Vatican would first let Canadian justice decide the case, citing the example of Australian Cardinal George Pell.

The 78-year-old prelate was sentenced in 2019 to six years in prison for sexually assaulting two teenagers in the 1990s, before being acquitted with the benefit of the doubt by the Australian courts a year later.

< p class="e-p">As for the future of Cardinal Ouellet, notwithstanding any future court decisions, it remains uncertain despite the protection of Pope Francis. I don't know if he'll lose influence with the pope, adds Mr. Henning, but he certainly will in the curia, because 20 new cardinals will be welcomed in Rome on August 27, which will give a broader and more global college of cardinals.

78-year-old Marc Ouellet may well have to delegate some of his responsibilities under the guise of reorganization, anticipates Christophe Henning.

With information from Marie-Pier Mercier and Flavie Sauvageau

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