A Canadian cardinal who is a close advisor to Pope Francis on Friday "categorically" denied accusations he sexually assaulted a teenage girl in the 1980s, but he will step back from his duties, the archdiocese of Quebec said.
Cardinal Gerald Lacroix, the 66-year-old archbishop of Quebec, is facing claims of sexual assault dating back to 1987 and 1988, when the victim was 17, as part of a class action suit against more than 100 priests in the archdiocese.
Lacroix has been the archbishop of Quebec since 2011 and a cardinal since 2014. Since last year, he has served on the pontiff's Council of Cardinal Advisors, which meets regularly at the Vatican.
"Cardinal Gerald Cyprien Lacroix has just announced to his main collaborators that he is temporarily withdrawing from his activities until the situation is clarified," the archdiocese said in a statement.
"He categorically denies the allegations against him yesterday, which he considers unfounded," it added.
The legal action is an updated filing of a case first brought in 2022.
It features testimony from 147 people who claim they were sexually assaulted by more than 100 priests in the archdiocese, some of them high-ranking clergy, the law firm representing his accuser said.
Pope Francis has made combatting sexual assault in the Church one of the main missions of his papacy, and insisted on a "zero tolerance" policy in the wake of multiple wide-reaching scandals.
The pontiff has created a commission on the sexual abuse of minors, in an attempt to lift the veil of secrecy that had shrouded criminal behavior by the clergy for decades.
Clergy and staff are required to report abuse in their dioceses, but anything revealed in confession is still considered private, and victims' rights activists have demanded better accountability.
All cardinals under the age of 80 participate in conclaves convened to elect new popes.