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Quebec Cardinal Marc Ouellet to retire after overseeing the Vatican's bishops' office

Pope Francis, left, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet arrive at the opening of a three-day Symposium on Vocations in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022. Marc Ouellet, the Quebec cardinal who oversaw the Vatican's powerful bishops' office and has been recently been hit with accusations of sexual misconduct, announced Monday he will retire in a few months time. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Gregorio Borgia

Marc Ouellet, the Quebec cardinal who oversaw the Vatican's powerful bishops' office and who has been recently been hit with accusations of sexual misconduct, announced Monday he would retire in April.

In a statement, Ouellet said it was time to turn the page. "It is time for me to take on new challenges, always in the service of the church and the Holy See."

At 78, Ouellet is three years past the normal retirement age. He was one of the few Vatican prefects Pope Francis retained from the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI.

The native of La Motte, Que., a farming community about 600 kilometres northwest of Montreal in the province's Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, thanked Pope Francis for accepting his resignation.

Ouellet did not, however, address the allegations that have been dogging him in recent months.

The first allegation surfaced last summer in a class-action lawsuit against the archdiocese of Quebec, in which a woman accused Ouellet of several incidents of sexual misconduct between 2008 and 2010. The alleged victim, Pamela Groleau, made her identity public and accused the Catholic Church of trying to silence her. She is one of 140 plaintiffs who are part of the class action.

Neither the allegations of Groleau nor of the others in the class action have been tested in court, and Ouellet countersued the woman for defamation in Quebec Superior Court, seeking $100,000 in damages.

In his countersuit, Ouellet said he has no recollection of ever meeting Groleau. "He does not know her,'' the lawsuit said. In a statement on the Vatican News website in December, he said he was suing her "in order to prove the falsity of the allegations'' and to restore his reputation and honour.

Earlier this month, the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Quebec City confirmed it had received a second complaint of sexual misconduct against Ouellet in 2020.

In a written statement earlier in January, Ouellet said he was participating in the investigation and has "nothing to hide," adding he acted with "complete transparency'' during the entire process. Ouellet denied having committed any "reprehensible behaviour'' toward the woman and said no complaint had been filed against him in civil or criminal court.

A Vatican investigation was conducted in the wake of the second complaint against Ouellet, but Pope Francis decided "not to retain the accusation against the cardinal.''

Pope Francis named American-born Bishop Robert Francis Prevost, who has been ministering in Peru since the 1980s, to take over the Vatican's bishops' office from the retiring Canadian. Prevost will also head the Vatican's Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

That office helps vet bishop nominations and also investigates allegations of abuse or negligence against bishops. 

Ouellet served as archbishop of Quebec between 2002 and 2010 before he was promoted to the high-profile Vatican post and a spot in Pope Benedict's inner circle. His name had also been floated as a possible choice for pope during previous papal conclaves.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2023. 

— With files from The Associated Press. 

The Canadian Press

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