New testimony of alleged sex abuse victim revealed in Canadian court in defamation case filed by Cardinal Ouellet against accuser

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Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, attends Pope Francis' celebration of Mass marking the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 12, 2022. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

MONTREAL (OSV News) — On Jan. 16, lawyer Alain Arsenault received a letter that began with the words: “I hereby describe an assault I suffered one Sunday in 1992 in the sacristy of the Grand Séminaire de Montréal,” Montreal’s major seminary.

The alleged victim, who remains anonymous, explained that on that Sunday, she was “preparing the missal, lectionary and evangeliary,” a task that involves inserting bookmarks into the pages displaying the texts to be read or proclaimed during the next Eucharistic celebration. (“Evangeliary” is the Book of Gospels.)

She described that the celebrant then stood behind her. His two hands on the table “on either side of me” prevented her from freeing herself, and the priest rubbed his pelvis over her, she claimed.

The priest, she alleged, was a 48-year-old Sulpician by the name of Father Marc Ouellet. Now a cardinal and a former archbishop of Quebec, he was at the time the superior of Montreal’s major seminary.

“I authorize you, Mr. Arsenault, to use this letter as you see fit in order to help Madame Paméla Groleau and all other victims of Cardinal Ouellet,” she said.

The letter is part of the documents filed by the defense in Cardinal Ouellet’s defamation suit against Paméla Groleau. Until the morning of June 13, a confidentiality order prevented the media from disclosing its contents. The order was lifted at a brief hearing held at Montreal’s courthouse.

An hour after the confidentiality order was lifted, Cardinal Ouellet, who retired in January after 13 years as prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Bishops, released a statement to the media firmly denying he “made any inappropriate act whatsoever” toward Groleau or other women.

Two further documents filed by Groleau’s lawyers mention other troubling allegations the cardinal’s accuser claims have been known to Pope Francis since 2014. Neither of these allegations has been verified in court.

The woman being sued for defamation by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, archbishop of Quebec from 2003 to 2010, has decided to reveal her identity and demand more “justice and transparency” in the Catholic Church, an institution for which she has worked for over 15 years.

In August 2022, Groleau, who at the time only identified herself as “F.” accused Cardinal Ouellet of sexual assault in a class-action civil suit filed against the Archdiocese of Quebec.

She revealed her real name Jan. 13, saying she is now openly fighting on behalf of “victims of the clergy who, for decades, have been seeking to be heard and recognized.”

Groleau wrote two letters to Pope Francis. The first in 2021 to denounce the cardinal’s alleged behavior under “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” procedure. The second letter was presented to the pope on Feb. 10, 2023, through an intermediary in Rome. In the second letter, she relates how her pastoral mandate was revoked during seven months as she was deemed “too vulnerable” to work, which she saw as using a victim’s vulnerability against her and putting her in a precarious financial situation.

When Quebec archdiocesan authorities were informed in January 2021 of the allegations against the cardinal, a leader of the Archdiocesan Committee for the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Persons encouraged the woman making the allegation to write a letter to Pope Francis.

An email from the Vatican Feb. 23, 2021, acknowledged that the pope read the letter and had appointed Belgian Jesuit Father Jacques Servais to conduct a preliminary investigation, according to Présence, a French-language religion news outlet based in Montreal.

An August 2022 statement from the Vatican press office confirmed Father Servais had concluded his investigation and presented the findings to Pope Francis, who, after further consultation, decided “there are insufficient elements to open a canonical investigation for sexual assault” by the cardinal “against person F.”

“Ms. Groleau’s view of things is not in keeping with the person I am and amounts to new defamatory allegations,” Cardinal Ouellet said in his statement June 13. “I firmly deny having made any inappropriate act whatsoever in relation to these women.”

“By making such allegations, Ms. Groleau continues to impute unfounded intentions to me. I intend to demonstrate this in a court of law, and to respond to these allegations with complete transparency,” the cardinal wrote.

The alleged gestures are “nothing more than cordial gestures made in the context of public appearances.” The cardinal added that “the actions in question would all have been taken, without exception, in full view of several people present, very near the alleged events.”

Explaining that he has “always reached out to people and will continue to do so,” he then announced that “several people involved in the activities in which I participated will testify at the trial.”

Groleau, for her part, said she is very touched by the testimonies her lawyers have gathered. “Women heard my cry, women understood my pain because they had experienced it themselves.”

These are “women who didn’t know me and whom I didn’t know” but who “asked to testify to their own suffering story to support me,” she said. “They believed in me without even knowing me.”

Groleau said that since she emerged from anonymity, she has received several testimonials of solidarity as well as “confidences from men and women, sometimes representatives of the ecclesial institution like myself, who have been victims of assault and received no support from the institution.”

She particularly thanked the two women “who agreed to testify” in the case brought against her by Cardinal Ouellet. “I will be forever grateful to them.”

Cardinal Ouellet announced he was filing a defamation lawsuit Dec. 13 “to restore my reputation and honor.”

The filing requested compensatory damages of $100,000 and included the cardinal’s intent to donate the money, if awarded to him, “to the fight against sexual abuse of Indigenous peoples in Canada.”

Francois Gloutnay is a staff writer for Présence, a French-language religion news outlet, in Montreal. OSV News contributed to this story.

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