After Quebec Cardinal Marc Ouellet was accused by a woman of sexual assault in a class-action lawsuit filed this week, more women have filed similar accusations against members of the province’s Catholic Church.
At least three women have filed formal complaints of sexual assault against the Archdiocese of Montreal since the allegations against Ouellet were made public, Christine Kirouack, ombudsman for the city’s archdiocese, said in an interview Wednesday.
“It exploded since yesterday,” Kirouack said of the Superior Court filing of two class-action lawsuits against members of the Catholic Church in Quebec, involving hundreds of alleged victims.
However, it was the media reports of the accusations against the cardinal that led to numerous calls to Kirouack by women. She said the high-profile allegations by an adult woman broke the stereotype commonly associated with abuse in the church: that it involves young children, mostly boys.
“One of them told me that when she saw the media reports … she recognized herself in them and wanted to report them,” Kirouack said.
“It’s encouraging to see that it can open doors for others. We’re showing that this is serious.”
On Tuesday, Montreal-based law firm Arsenault Dufresne Wee Avocats filed two introductory class action applications. The two lawsuits had recently been authorized by a Quebec judge, and one of them included the testimony of a woman identified as “F.”
He accused the cardinal, once considered a favorite to become pope, of several incidents of sexual assault between 2008 and 2010, including running his hand up her back and touching her buttocks at an event in Quebec City. At the time, the cardinal was the archbishop of Quebec while F., who was 23 years old, worked as a pastoral intern in the archdiocese of Quebec.
Attorney Justin Wee said his firm’s class actions demonstrate that it’s not just young children, particularly young boys, who face sexual misconduct by members of the clergy, but also adult women.
In the first lawsuit, in which Ouellet is named, 101 alleged victims have accused some 88 priests or diocesan personnel of sexual assault. About 19 women are among the alleged victims, Wee said in an interview Wednesday.
After a complaint of #abuse against the cardinal of #Quebec, 3 more women file a complaint against the church, #IglesiaCatólica #ConductaSexual
“We tend to associate church abuse with children, but it happens with adults as well,” Wee said. “Recommendations were issued … and we need to implement both support for children and adult victims.”
University of Montreal religious studies professor Solange Lefebvre says the fact that Ouellet’s alleged victim was an adult could open the door for more adults to come forward with accusations against the church.
“Whether Ouellet is found guilty or not, this makes it possible to address more broadly the power that the Catholic Church can exercise over adults,” Lefebvre said in an interview Wednesday.
Lefebvre said that while the sexual abuse of children within the Catholic Church is well documented, the accusations against Ouellet could also create opportunities for prosecutors and police to look for potential victims among young women involved with the church.
“All of our attention, and for very good reason, was focused on child abuse,” Lefebvre said.
“But here, the (alleged) victim is an adult and it gives the allegations a new proportion…Until now, investigations into allegations of abuse against the Catholic Church were all directed at young children.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 17, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.