Vatican City - Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet said Friday he “strongly denies” claims of sexual assault made against him, according to a Vatican statement.

“Having learnt of the false accusations made against me by the complainant, I strongly deny having made inappropriate gestures towards her”, he said in a statement published on the Vatican website.

“I consider the interpretation and circulation of these allegations of sexual assaults to be defamatory.

“If a civil inquiry is opened, I will actively participate so the truth is established and my innocence is recognised”, the statement in French and Italian said.

Ouellet is accused of abusing a female intern, identified only as “F”, from 2008 to 2010, when he was archbishop of Quebec.

The 78-year-old, who was 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.

Pope Francis has ruled out a formal church investigation after a preliminary inquiry found no basis for one, the Vatican said on Thursday.