Pope Francis rules out sex assault inquiry into Canada cardinal
The coronavirus pandemic is forcing the Vatican led by Pope Francis (C) to dig into its cash reserves GUGLIELMO MANGIAPANE POOL/AFP

Pope Francis has ruled out a formal church investigation into a sexual assault claim against Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet after preliminary inquiries found no basis for one, the Vatican said Thursday.

Ouellet, once considered a strong candidate to be pope, was named in court documents this week relating to a class action suit targeting more than 80 members of the clergy in the archdiocese of Quebec.

The 78-year-old is accused of abusing a female intern identified only as "F" from 2008 to 2010, when he was archbishop of Quebec.

In its first response to the case, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement that a "preliminary investigation" already ordered by Pope Francis had found there were "no elements to initiate a trial".

The pontiff went back to the author of that probe, a Father Jacques Servais, and was told again that there were no grounds for opening a formal investigation.

"Following further relevant consultations, Pope Francis declares that there are insufficient elements to open a canonical investigation for sexual assault by Cardinal Ouellet against person F," the statement said.

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