Catholic cardinal accused of sexual assault in Canada

MONTREAL, Canada – Cardinal Gerald Lacroix has been accused in Canada of sexually assaulting a female teenager, as part of a class action lawsuit against the archdiocese of Quebec, court documents showed Thursday.

The 66-year-old Lacroix is facing claims of abuse dating back to 1987 and 1988, when the victim was 17, attorney Alain Arsenault, who is handling the suit, told AFP.

Arsenault said victims are feeling freer to speak out, and that those accused “were protected for a long time.” He expects more victims to come forward and join the suit.

Lacroix, who is close to Pope Francis, has been the archbishop of Quebec since 2011 and a cardinal since 2014. He has served since last year on the pontiff’s Council of Cardinal Advisors, which meets regularly at the Vatican.

The legal action, an updated filing of a case first brought in 2022, features testimony from 147 people who claim they were sexually assaulted by more than 100 priests in the archdiocese, some of them high-ranking clergy, his law firm said in a statement.

The new filing reflects the addition of 46 victims, and names more than a dozen new suspects.

The archdiocese of Quebec did not immediately respond to AFP requests for comment.

In the original suit, cardinal Marc Ouellet was accused of sexually abusing a female intern from 2008 to 2010.

Ouellet, who persistently denied what he called “defamatory” allegations, resigned in January 2023 from his position at the Vatican due to his age.

Other cardinals accused

Since Pope Francis was elected in 2013 to lead the Roman Catholic Church, at least three other cardinals, including Ouellet, have faced accusations of sexual assault.

In late 2022, French cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, the former archbishop of Bordeaux, admitted he had “behaved in a reprehensible way” towards a young girl 35 years earlier, kissing and caressing her.

French prosecutors ultimately closed their investigation into his alleged crimes because the statute of limitations had expired, but a Vatican probe is ongoing.

In 2019, Pope Francis defrocked Theodore McCarrick, the onetime archbishop of Washington. A Vatican investigation found that he had hidden regular sexual contact with adult seminarians and at least one minor.

Francis has made combatting sexual assault in the Church one of the main missions of his papacy, and insisted on a “zero tolerance” policy in the wake of multiple wide-reaching scandals.

The pontiff has created a commission on the sexual abuse of minors, lifting the veil of secrecy that had shrouded criminal behavior by the clergy for decades.

Clergy and staff are required to report abuse in their dioceses, but anything revealed in confession is still considered private, and victims’ rights activists have demanded better accountability.

All cardinals under the age of 80 participate in conclaves convened to elect new popes. — Agence France-Presse

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