Instead, the news service said that Pope Francis had accepted Ouellet’s resignation “upon reaching the age limit” for cardinals, which is 75. Ouellet, 78, reached the limit a few years ago — but so have several other heads of major Vatican departments, according to the independent National Catholic Reporter.
His retirement could bring more scrutiny to the allegations. It also draws attention to Francis’s handling of the affair, coming just a week after the Catholic leader told an interviewer that he wanted more “transparency” within the church’s handling of abuse.
Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the advocacy group BishopAccountability.org, noted that the announcement came less than two weeks after a French Catholic publication reported on new sexual abuse allegations against Ouellet.
“The timing is suggestive, and it raises troubling questions about the Pope’s possible complicity,” Barrett Doyle said in a statement. She said Francis should be more transparent: “Is his removal from office a sanction?”
Ouellet was once considered a reformer within the Vatican on issues of abuse. He called the child sexual abuse outrage that engulfed the Catholic Church in Canada “a source of great shame and enormous scandal” in 2012 and said the church’s handling of the allegations was “often inadequate.”
But in August of last year, a class-action lawsuit filed against the Archdiocese of Quebec detailed new accusations against him personally.
In the lawsuit, Ouellet was accused of inappropriate touching, including kisses, massages and remarks, by a woman initially identified only as “F.” According to the lawsuit, the incidents began roughly 15 years ago, when Ouellet was archbishop of Quebec and the woman was a pastoral intern.
Paméla Groleau later publicly revealed herself as “F” and said that she was facing “threats and intimidation” from the Catholic Church. Ouellet denied all allegations. In December, he made the highly unusual move of countersuing Groleau for defamation, seeking $100,000 in damages.
The Catholic publication Golias Hebdo this month reported on a second allegation of sexual misconduct made against Ouellet in 2020. The French weekly published a 2021 letter from Cardinal Gérald Lacroix, the current archbishop of Quebec City, telling the unnamed complainant that the allegations were not being pursued.
In a statement released to Canadian media after the report was published, Ouellet denied the allegations and said he had “nothing to hide,” with no complaints filed against him in civil or criminal court.
The allegations against Ouellet are awkward for Francis, not only because he was considered a close ally to the pope in the Vatican. Although Ouellet was appointed by Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, Francis kept Ouellet on far beyond his regular five-year term.
Ouellet was also the face of several Vatican responses to allegations of abuse, including the alleged sexual misconduct of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006. Ouellet initially dismissed the allegations against McCarrick as a “political plot that lacks any real basis.”
A church investigation and trial found McCarrick guilty of “sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults” and removed him from the clergy. He’s the highest ranking member of the church known to have been laicized.
Groleau reported Ouellet to the Vatican in 2020 and reached out to Francis himself in 2021, according to the class-action lawsuit. In a statement in response to the lawsuit, the Vatican said that Francis had determined there were “insufficient grounds” for a canonical investigation.
It soon emerged that the Vatican had charged the investigation of the matter to a priest, the Rev. Jacques Servais, who knew Ouellet well and with whom he was a fellow member of a small religious association.