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A senior leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec is stepping back from his functions as he fights allegations of sexual assault that emerged as part of a class-action lawsuit, the Quebec City archdiocese said Friday.

The archdiocese said in a news release that Cardinal Gérald Lacroix “categorically” denies the allegations against him, “which he considers unfounded.”

The diocese said Cardinal Lacroix will withdraw from his duties as archbishop until the situation is clarified, adding that he plans to publish a message to church members in the coming days.

Cardinal Lacroix’s name was among 15 added Thursday to a list of alleged perpetrators filed as part of a lawsuit brought by the law firm Arsenault Dufresne Wee. The class action was authorized by the Quebec Superior Court in 2022 and 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 66-year-old Cardinal Lacroix 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.

The archdiocese said it understands Cardinal Lacroix’s decision to step back but was saddened by the situation. It added that diocesan authorities would “continue to move forward in the process of collective action, with respect for the truth and with a view to offer reparation to survivors of sexual abuse.”

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