By François Gloutnay
VATICAN CITY, (Catholic News Service) – A preliminary Vatican investigation into allegations against Cardinal Marc Ouellet concluded there was not sufficient evidence to warrant opening up formal proceedings against the cardinal for sexual assault, a Vatican spokesman said.
However, the Jesuit who did the investigation was a long-time associate of the cardinal.
Pope Francis has been made aware of these findings and, after further consultation, has declared that “there are insufficient elements to open a canonical investigation for sexual assault by Cardinal Ouellet against person F,” Matteo Bruni, head of the Vatican press office, said in a written statement Aug. 18.
Bruni wrote that a preliminary investigation ordered by Pope Francis had been completed and that it concluded there were no facts or “elements to initiate a trial against Cardinal Ouellet for sexual assault.” The Canadian cardinal is prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Bishops.
Bruni confirmed that Belgian Jesuit Father Jacques Servais had been chosen by the pope to conduct the preliminary study after he was accused of actions allegedly committed against a young laywoman, identified as “F” in Canadian court documents in a class action lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Quebec.
Bruni sought confirmation of the Vatican investigation directly from Father Servais, who replied: “There are no grounds to open an investigation into the sexual assault of F. by Card. M. Ouellet. Neither in his written report sent to the Holy Father, nor in the testimony via Zoom that I subsequently collected in the presence of a member of the (arch)diocesan ad hoc committee, did this person make any accusation that would provide grounds for such an investigation.”
Based on these findings and after “following further relevant consultations, Pope Francis declares that there are insufficient elements to open a canonical investigation for sexual assault by Cardinal Ouellet against person F,” Bruni said.
Cardinal Ouellet is a close adviser to Pope Francis, and he has been the prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, formerly the Congregation for Bishops, since 2010. He was appointed to the position by Pope Benedict XVI.
However, Pope Francis’ 2019 motu proprio, “Vos estis lux mundi,” states that any person helping in the investigation of potential abuse “is required to act impartially and must be free of conflicts of interest. If he considers himself to be in a conflict of interest or be unable to maintain the necessary impartiality required to guarantee the integrity of the investigation, he is obliged to recuse himself and report the circumstances to the metropolitan.”
Father Servais and Cardinal Ouellet were both members of the Lubac-Balthasar-Speyr Association, first assembled in 1991 at the initiative of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who gathered together a group of disciples and friends of Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar, coming from various countries and belonging to diverse ecclesial or religious states. Father Servais chaired the association, and Cardinal Ouellet, then a priest, was one of the founding members. Now-Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna and US Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio were among other members of the six-member group.
Read more of the class action lawsuit here.