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Quebec Cardinal Gérald Lacroix faces sex assault allegations in class-action lawsuit

MONTREAL — A senior leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec is facing allegations of sexual assault as part of a class-action lawsuit against the archdiocese in the provincial capital.
Quebec Cardinal Gérald Lacroix is facing allegations of sexual assault in court documents filed as part of a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Quebec. Lacroix attends a mass in the St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Alessandra Tarantino

MONTREAL — A senior leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec is facing allegations of sexual assault as part of a class-action lawsuit against the archdiocese in the provincial capital.

Cardinal Gérald Lacroix's name is among 15 added to a list of alleged perpetrators filed in Quebec Superior Court on Thursday. The class action brought by the law firm Arsenault Dufresne Wee was authorized by the court in 2022. It covers anyone who was sexually assaulted by clergy or lay personnel who were under the responsibility of the Catholic archdiocese of Quebec City, dating back to 1940.

The allegations against Lacroix, 66, the current archbishop of Quebec City, date back to 1987 and 1988 and involve an alleged victim who was 17 at the time. They allege that sexual touching took place in Quebec City. The claims have not been tested in court.

"At this point in the day, we are still in shock, trying to understand the new developments in the class-action case," Valérie Roberge-Dion, spokesperson for Lacroix, said in an email. "Different versions are circulating regarding the allegations against Cardinal Lacroix. We are trying to understand, and we will be able to comment later."

Class-action lawyer Alain Arsenault says the alleged victim, now in her 50s, had been reluctant to come forward because of the impact her allegations would have had on her devout parents.

The two alleged assaults, Arsenault said, took place in similar ways on separate occasions. Both times, when the alleged victim accompanied her parents for Bible study, Lacroix pulled her aside into a separate room and allegedly assaulted her. She kept quiet because Lacroix allegedly told her that it would kill her mother to learn about what had happened.

"So she kept silent … after the death of her mother, she contacted us to sign up for the class action," Arsenault said.

He said he doesn't think his client intends to file a police complaint, adding that in the numerous lawsuits he has brought against religious orders, only a handful of his clients have gone to police. 

According to a biography on the website of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Lacroix was secretary-general of the Quebec City-based Pius X Secular Institute between 1982 and 1987 and also served as director of the affiliated Maison du Renouveau — described as a Christian training and spiritual renewal centre — between 1985 and 1987.

He was ordained in 1988, first as a deacon in Manchester, N.H., and then as a priest in Notre-Dame-de-Recouvrance Church, which falls under the Quebec City archdiocese.

The allegations are part of the same lawsuit that alleged sexual misconduct by Quebec Cardinal Marc Ouellet between 2008 and 2010. Ouellet has denied the allegations and countersued the woman who made them for defamation. He was later hit with another allegation of sexual misconduct in 2020, which he has also denied.

Ouellet, 79, retired last April from a posting at the Vatican where he oversaw the powerful bishops' office.

The Montreal law firm, which is working with a Quebec City firm on the case, said 147 people have come forward with allegations of sexual assault involving more than 100 priests or lay staff members. Some of those diocese members are alleged to have multiple victims. The law firm noted the number of alleged victims has grown by 46 since August 2022 as the case became publicized.

Arsenault said he expects more victims to come forward. "Reporting is the first step toward healing," he said.

Lacroix is one of the most powerful Catholic figures in the country. He was appointed archbishop of Quebec in 2011, replacing Ouellet. Pope Francis designated him as cardinal in January 2014.

The cardinal was a central figure during the papal visit in July 2022. Last March, Lacroix was named one of nine members of the Council of Cardinals, established by Pope Francis in 2013 to advise him on church governance.

Arsenault said the amended list has yet to be approved by the court. It is part of a request to file an amended list of defendants in addition to the archdiocese.

A trial isn't expected in 2024. Lawyers will spend this year getting the case ready for trial, which will include requesting documents, and questioning witnesses, including Lacroix.

The lawsuit was initially filed in 2020. Between 2022 and 2023, negotiations took place in order to resolve the matter amicably, but those talks ended without an agreement. In its statement, the firm notes that the defendants have assets worth $311 million, according to Revenue Canada.

The Quebec archdiocese covers greater Quebec City and the neighbouring Chaudière-Appalaches, Charlevoix and Beauce regions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2024.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version referred to allegations in court documents that have since been corrected by the lawyers who brought the class action.