Marc Ouellet is accused in a class action suit that targets more than 80 members of clergy in archdiocese of Quebec, court documents show.

Marc Ouellet (R) was mentioned as being among the favorites at the last conclave that elevated Pope Francis to the papacy.
Marc Ouellet (R) was mentioned as being among the favorites at the last conclave that elevated Pope Francis to the papacy. (Tiziana Fabi / AFP)

Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, once considered a strong candidate to be pope, has been accused of sexual assault in a class action suit that targets more than 80 members of the clergy in the archdiocese of Quebec.

The accusation is over the alleged abuse of a female intern from 2008 to 2010, when he was archbishop of Quebec, court documents showed on Tuesday. 

The allegation comes just weeks after Pope Francis visited Canada, where he apologised for the decades-long abuse of Indigenous children in Catholic-run residential schools.

Ouellet is a prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, one of the most important functions within the Curia, the government of the Vatican.

At the last papal conclave that elevated Francis to the papacy, Ouellet was mentioned as being among the favourites. All cardinals under the age of 80 are eligible. Ouellet is now 78.

When contacted by the AFP news agency, the archdiocese of Quebec said in a statement that it had "taken note of the allegations with respect to Cardinal Marc Ouellet" and had no further comment.

The Vatican did not immediately reply to AFP's request for comment.

READ MORE: Pope apologises for 'evil' against Canada's Indigenous people

'F' comes forward against Ouellet

The claims against Ouellet in the civil suit, which the Quebec supreme court ruled could go ahead in May, are among testimonies of 101 people who say they were sexually assaulted by members of the clergy and church staff from 1940 to today.

Ouellet's accuser identified only as "F," says the Cardinal assaulted her multiple times.

The accuser says she had the feeling of being "chased after," according to the documents. When the woman tried to raise the issue, she was told she wasn't the only woman to have such a "problem" with Ouellet, documents show.

She later was advised to write a letter to Pope Francis about her accusations. She was then informed that Francis had named someone to investigate Ouellet.

The woman has not heard of any conclusions in that investigation.

So far, the cardinal is not facing criminal charges.

Two sides of Ouellet?

In February, Ouellet opened a Vatican symposium on the priesthood by apologising for "unworthy" clergy and the cover-up of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, before an audience that included Pope Francis.

"We are all torn and humbled by these crucial questions that every day question us as members of the Church," Ouellet said at the time.

He said the symposium was an opportunity to express regret and ask victims for forgiveness after their lives were "destroyed by abusive and criminal behaviour" that was hidden or treated lightly to protect the institution and the perpetrators.

Since becoming pope in 2013, Francis has striven to tackle the decades-long sexual abuse scandals, although many child protection activists insist much more needs to be done.

In Canada, the Church is facing several class action suits related to sexual misconduct. In the western part of the country, more than 30 students have filed suit against several officials at a Christian school, as reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

READ MORE: Canada's indigenous community finds more evidence of 'cultural genocide'

Source: AFP