The woman who recently accused Quebec Cardinal Marc Ouellet of sexual misconduct has broken a stereotype about church abuse.
Université de Montréal religious studies professor Solange Lefebvre says the fact Ouellet’s alleged victim was an adult could open the door to more people coming forward with allegations against the church who aren’t children.
Lefebvre says that while sex abuse of children within the Catholic Church is well-documented, these new high-profile allegations could also create opportunities for prosecutors and police to look for potential victims among young women involved with the church.
A woman identified as “F.” in court documents tabled on Tuesday accused Ouellet of several incidents of sexual assault between 2008 and 2010, including sliding his hand down her back and touching her buttocks at an event in Quebec City.
F. is among roughly 300 alleged victims who have made sex-abuse claims against the church in two class-action lawsuits brought by Montreal-based law firm Arsenault Dufresne Wee Avocats and authorized by a judge.
Arsenault Dufresne Wee Avocats said in a statement Tuesday that in the first lawsuit, against the archdiocese of Quebec, about 101 alleged victims have accused about 88 priests or other clergy members of sexual assault.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Quebec said in a statement on Tuesday it was aware of the allegations, but it declined to comment.
In the second lawsuit, against the Brothers of the Christian Schools of Francophone Canada, 193 alleged victims have accused 116 members of that organization of sexual assault.
The documents tabled in court contained the detailed accusations against the clergy members — including Ouellet — following the authorization of the class actions.
According to the lawsuit involving Ouellet, F. met the cardinal in 2008 when she was 23 and working as a pastoral intern at the Quebec archdiocese. Following a dinner at the Sisters of Charity in Beauport, Que., in August of that year, the cardinal allegedly massaged her shoulders and stroked her back in a conference room, the lawsuit said.
“F. remained frozen in the face of this intrusion and didn’t know how to react,” the lawsuit said.
In November of that year, the cardinal allegedly kissed her cheek and hugged her “with familiarity, even though they had only seen each other once or twice before, and held her firmly against him, caressing her back with his hands.”
And in 2010, during an ordination ceremony for a colleague, Ouellet allegedly kissed her cheek, hugged her and “slid his hand along F.’s back to her buttocks.”
“That day, more than during previous meetings, F. understood that she must flee Cardinal Marc Ouellet … the uneasiness she felt was more present than ever,” the lawsuit said.
When she tried to speak out about the cardinal’s alleged actions, F. was told that Ouellet was “very friendly” and that she wasn’t the only woman to have that kind of “problem” with him, according to the court documents.
In 2020, after F. participated in sexual assault training, she began to have “flashbacks of what she experienced with Cardinal Marc Ouellet,” and she understood that the clergyman’s actions “constitute non-consensual touching of a sexual nature and therefore, sexual assault,” the lawsuit said.
The woman wrote a letter to Pope Francis in January 2021 regarding the cardinal, and a month later, she was informed that the Pope appointed Father Jacques Servais to investigate her allegations.
The court documents said that as of summer 2022, “no conclusion concerning the complaints against Cardinal Marc Ouellet has been transmitted to F.”
Lawyer Justin Wee says his firm’s class actions demonstrate that it’s not only young children — particularly young boys — who face sexual misconduct by clergy members but also adult women.