VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet as Prefect of the Congregation (Dicastery) for Bishops after reaching the age limit, replacing him with Chicago-born Bishop Robert Francis Prevost, O.S.A., a previous prior general of the Augustinian Order.
The Holy See Press Office announced the news in its daily bulletin January 30, stating that Ouellet’s resignation had been presented and accepted “due to age limit.”
Sine June 2010, Cardinal Ouellet has led the Congregation and served as the President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.
Prevost will assume both roles from Ouellet on April 12, the Tuesday of Easter week. He will thus lead the Vatican body tasked with appointing new bishops and all that the role involves, including organizing or restructuring dioceses and arranging bishops’ visits to Rome.
In recent months, Ouellet has been at the center of a media frenzy after he was accused as part of a class-action lawsuit of instances of sexual assault dating back to 2008. He firmly denied the allegations made against him.
Ouellet was supported in this position by Pope Francis, who found after a “preliminary investigation” that there were “no elements to initiate a trial against Cardinal Ouellet for sexual assault.” In an unprecedented move, Ouellet then sued the woman who had made the allegations against him, saying that should he win the case, he would donate the money to tackle sexual abuse of Canadian indigenous people.
Prevost, meanwhile, is a relative newcomer to the Roman Curia. He was made a member of the Congregation for Clergy in July 2019 and then a member of the Congregation for Bishops in November 2020, becoming a rare non-cardinal member of the Congregation.
However, since his arrival he has been tipped for a leading role in the Vatican, with many suggesting for some time that either he or Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich might take over from Ouellet.
A member of the Order of St. Augustine (OSA) since 1977, he was ordained a priest in 1982 in Rome. Prevost spent a number of years in the OSA missions in Peru, serving different terms in the Trujillo mission as community prior and formation director, as well as being judicial vicar for the Archdiocese of Trujillo.
Elected superior of his Chicago province in 1999, it was not long before Prevost rose to become Prior General of the entire order in 2001. He held this position for two terms, until 2013.
Prevost’s episcopal life began in November 2014, when Pope Francis appointed him as apostolic administrator of Peru’s Diocese of Chiclayo. The Augustinian has been bishop of the diocese since 2015.
Prevost’s history in Chicago
As with Ouellet, neither is Prevost free from criticisms regarding instances of sexual abuse. Following Prevost’s March 1, 2021, private audience with the Pope, The Pillar wrote that the Augustinian had allowed an abuser priest to live in a property owned by the order, very close to a Catholic school and next to a day care center.
The Chicago Sun reported that hundreds of recently disclosed Church documents (seen by LifeSiteNews and available here) revealed that former priest James Ray – accused of serial sexual abuse of minors – was allowed to live in the Augustinian’s St. John Stone Priory from September 2000.
Ordained in 1975, the first instance of Ray’s alleged abuse took place in 1976. A number of accusations followed over the years, with Ray also being removed from active parish ministry in 1991, but continuing various public ministries. He also admitted to masturbating a “paraplegic,” who reportedly asked Ray to do so while the priest was on a trip to Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
As the archdiocesan procedures against Ray resulted in him having to leave a place of residence in early 2000, the Augustinians then volunteered to host the priest at the Augustinian Priory, and offered a room to him for a rent of $400 – $500 per month.
The documents of the arrangement from August 2000 state that Ray’s move would be contingent on the approval of the “Provincial,” who at the time was Prevost.
The archdiocesan review board approved the move, writing that “there is no school in the vicinity.”
However, the Augustinian house is only a two minute walk from a day care facility – the Chicago Child Care Society – and a school, the St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Grade School, which serves children from Pre-K to eighth-grade.
Then-archbishop Cardinal Francis George also approved the move in a September 2000 letter. Among the copied recipients of the letter only the name of the Superior of the Augustinian priory was redacted.
Ray was still residing at the Priory in May 2002 when two more historical allegations of sexual abuse of male minors were made against him, about which the review board “found reasonable cause to suspect misconduct occurred.” The letter detailing the allegations also states that the Augustinian prior “serves as his on-site monitor,” who by this time, however, would not have been Prevost.
That same year, Ray was moved from the Priory as his actions became the focus of increased media scrutiny. In 2009 Cardinal George removed his stance as a priest of the Archdiocese. Ray was later laicized in 2012.