Woman accusing prominent Quebec cardinal of sexual misconduct reveals her identity

Paméla Groleau said she is coming forward with her allegations against Cardinal Marc Ouellet in the hopes of encouraging others to denounce abuses within the Catholic Church. (Sonia Desmarais/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Paméla Groleau said she is coming forward with her allegations against Cardinal Marc Ouellet in the hopes of encouraging others to denounce abuses within the Catholic Church. (Sonia Desmarais/Radio-Canada - image credit)

The woman who alleges she experienced unwanted sexual touching by Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet has revealed her identity, saying she wants more transparency from the Vatican and to encourage others to come forward with their stories of abuse.

Paméla Groleau is one of the more than 130 people taking part in a class action lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Quebec, which includes allegations of sexual misconduct against 96 members of its clergy dating back to 1940.

Sonia Desmarais/Radio-Canada
Sonia Desmarais/Radio-Canada

"Today, I am no longer F," Groleau said in a statement to a small group of reporters, referring to the letter used to identify her in court documents. "I am Paméla Groleau."

Ouellet is a prominent Vatican cardinal, who has been regarded as a potential successor to the Pope. He has denied all the allegations against him and sued Groleau for defamation in December, seeking $100,000 in damages.

Dominique Ménard, a lawyer representing Ouellet, said in an email his team and Ouellet are aware of Groleau revealing her identity but said the cardinal would not be commenting "out of respect for the legal process."

Ménard added that Ouellet "maintains that he never committed the acts of which he was accused by the plaintiff and that he never had reprehensible acts or behaviours like those alleged against other members of the clergy targeted by the class action. We believe that this inappropriate association, made intentionally and for improper purposes, is defamatory."

Groleau, who now works in a different part of the church, said she initially wanted to conceal her identity to protect her family, her job and her mental health, "which was put to the test at every step of the way."

Now she says she feels that coming forward will help with her own healing and encourage other potential victims to feel comfortable denouncing what happened to them.

"To find the dignity that was taken from me," she said.

Gregorio Borgia/The Associated Press
Gregorio Borgia/The Associated Press

Groleau said she also wants the Catholic Church to recognize that its internal process dealing with sexual abuse allegations is not working and needs to change.

"I would like to see the church confront abuse rather than deny it and I would like to hear the church welcome anyone who claims to be a victim, with neutral, impartial, independent, rigourous and professional processes," she said.

Justin Wee, one of the lawyers representing Groleau, said that when Groleau was interviewed by the church after filing a complaint, it had seemed more interested in her motivation for doing so rather than hearing what she said happened to her.

"It's not a way to address a complaint of sexual abuse and that's why she was very disappointed," Wee said in an interview this week.

Robert Mickens, the Rome-based editor in chief of La Croix, a publication covering the Catholic Church, says Ouellet's defamation suit against Groleau is an almost unprecedented move by a priest accused of sexual misconduct.

Despite that, he said Groleau's decision to have her name published "is quite significant," given Ouellet's high ranking within the Catholic Church. "It gives courage to other victims or survivors of clergy sex abuse, or those who have alleged that type of abuse," he said.

Groleau was an intern at the Quebec archdiocese between 2008 and 2010 when she alleges Ouellet behaved inappropriately toward her, according to court filings as part of the lawsuit, which were made public in August.

She says the cardinal grabbed her tightly against him and caressed her lower back during public events. Groleau, who was 24 at the time, said the gestures made her increasingly uncomfortable.

In 2020, Groleau decided to report the incidents directly to the archdiocese, calling Ouellet's alleged actions intrusive and inappropriate. Following internal investigation procedures, her letter was transmitted to the Vatican.

Groleau said she didn't hear back until the lawsuit she participated in was made public in August. The Vatican published a statement shortly afterward, saying it found no evidence that warranted further disciplinary measures.

'Troubling and painful' process

She said the whole process was extremely stressful.

"I experienced that like another assault. It was very troubling and painful, as much coming from the archdiocese as the Vatican," she said.

Sonia Desmarais/Radio-Canada
Sonia Desmarais/Radio-Canada

She said she received intimidating anonymous letters and feared she would lose her job.

Alain Arsenault, a partner at the law firm representing the complainants in the lawsuit, said Groleau is the first person he knows of to be sued for defamation after participating in a class action against members of the Catholic Church.

The lawyer said Groleau is among up to 2,400 people in Quebec who've participated in such class actions.

"It's the first time there's this kind of action coming from a priest," Arsenault said.

Groleau hopes her story will inspire people, whether they are religious or not, to demand more transparency from the Vatican.