A report that Pope Benedict XVI is poised to name Cardinal Marc Ouellet to the powerful Congregation of Bishops is simply speculation, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Quebec says.

Jasmin Lemieux-Lefebvre, the communications director for the archdiocese, refused to confirm the report on the blog of an Italian journalist who covers the Vatican.

"It is a rumour like many that have occurred over the past years," Lemieux-Lefebvre said Friday. "It seems that, from time to time, there are rumours that are bringing the cardinal back to Rome. It's only speculative and we won't comment on this kind of rumour, especially [because] the prefect of the Congregation of Bishops is not retired yet."

It's not the first time rumours have swirled around about a Vatican appointment for Ouellet, 66, who is currently the Roman Catholic Primate of Canada.

When Pope John Paul II died in April 2005, Ouellet's name surfaced as a possible replacement. The National Catholic Reporter included his name on a list of 20 candidates for the job that went to Joseph Ratzinger.

Ouellet has been a controversial figure of late.

He recently had to defend comments he made about abortion. He said he was merely stating Catholic Church doctrine when he told a conference that abortion was an unjustifiable moral crime, even in the case of rape.

His remark was condemned by the Canadian government, provincial politicians in Quebec, and feminist groups. One newspaper columnist even expressed his wish that the religious leader would suffer a slow, painful death.

Defended Pope

Always a strong defender of the Catholic Church, Ouellet denounced allegations in March that the Pope covered up cases of sexual abuse by priests while he was a cardinal.

Ouellet has refused to comment on the case of his own younger brother, who took out newspaper ads to explain his past sexual assaults against minors.

Paul Ouellet was sentenced to 15 months' community service for the assaults against two young people that happened in the mid-1980s and early 1990s.

Marc Ouellet, who once worked as a missionary, became archbishop of Quebec City in 2002 and has been secretary of the pontifical council for promoting Christian unity.

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, 76, is the current prefect of the Congregation of Bishops.

Lemieux-Lefebvre said the rumours are likely swirling because Re is expected to retire soon because of his age.

Renowned Vatican watcher

The rumour came from Andrea Tornielli, a renowned Vatican watcher who has written about 40 books on religion. He has covered the Vatican since 1992.

He wrote in his blog for the Milan newspaper Il Giornale that the Pope had decided who would replace Re.

"Unless there is an unlikely — but still possible — last-minute surprise, the choice has fallen on the Pope's Canadian cardinal, Marc Ouellet," wrote Tornielli, who is said to have a pretty good track record in predicting Vatican changes.

Tornielli has previously predicted that Cardinal George Pell  of Australia would get the job but reports indicate he is reluctant to leave his current post.

If Ouellet did get the job, he would have to move to Rome and a new archbishop would have to be appointed for Quebec.

The Canadian Press