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Vatican absolves cardinal accused of assaulting teenager

An inquiry ordered by Pope Francis into an allegation of sexual assault against a Canadian cardinal has found no evidence of wrongdoing, the Vatican has said.

Cardinal Gerald Lacroix, the 66-year-old archbishop of Quebec and a member of the pope’s C9 advisory council, had been accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl in the 1980s.

“In the light of the facts examined by the judge, the report does not permit to identify any actions that amount to misconduct or abuse on the part of Cardinal Gerald C. Lacroix,” the Vatican said in a statement.

“Consequently, no further canonical procedure is foreseen.”

The claims against Cardinal Lacroix date back to 1987 and 1988, when the alleged victim was 17, and are part of a class action suit against more than 100 priests in the archdiocese.

Cardinal Lacroix has been Quebec’s archbishop since 2011 and was made a cardinal in 2014.

He denies the allegations.

In January, he said he would pause his duties until the inquiry was cleared up, but he attended a Council of Cardinals meeting at the Vatican last month.

The pope asked retired Canadian judge Andre Denis in February to assess the facts in the case and establish if there was enough evidence to warrant a canonical or church trial.

Mr Denis has previously studied thousands of sexual misconduct allegations against the Catholic Church dating back to the 1940s, and authored a report that confirmed or substantiated dozens of claims.

His report into Cardinal Lacroix was concluded on 6 May and delivered to the pope in the days that followed, the Vatican said in its statement, which was translated into English and French, Canada’s two official languages.

The Vatican said Pope Francis thanked Mr Denis for carrying out his probe within the timeframe requested and acting “with impartiality in the context of the class action lawsuit brought against the Archdiocese of Quebec”.

It said the pope authorised Mr Denis to summarise his findings in a public statement, which has not yet been released.

The class action lawsuit in Canada includes testimony from 147 people who claim they were sexually assaulted by more than 100 priests in the archdiocese, according to court documents.

Besides Cardinal Lacroix, the accused also includes Cardinal Marc Ouellet, once considered a strong candidate to be pope, who also says he is innocent of the accusations.

Pope Francis has insisted on a “zero tolerance” policy on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, following multiple wide-reaching scandals, most involving minors.

In 2019, he defrocked then cardinal Theodore McCarrick, onetime archbishop of Washington.

A Vatican investigation found that he had hidden regular sexual contact with adult seminarians and at least one minor.

The Argentine pope has also created an advisory commission for the protection of minors, lifted papal secrecy on sexual abuse by clergy and obliged both clergy and lay people to report all cases to their superiors.

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