Quebec Cardinal Marc Ouellet, one of the candidates in the race to become the next pope, says the Catholic Church has learned from its mistakes regarding sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the centuries-old institution in recent years.

In the first part of a world-exclusive English language interview with CBC's chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge, the two discussed criticism over sex abuse scandals, the chance of Ouellet becoming the next pontiff, and what Benedict XVI's unexpected retirement means for the church in the 21st century.

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The second part of the interview airs on The National Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET/10:30 p.m. NT on CBC-TV. It airs on CBC News Network at 9 p.m. ET/11 p.m. PT on both dates.

In a particularly candid moment, Mansbridge asked Ouellet — who has worked directly with abuse victims — if he was satisfied with the current monitoring of priests, bishops and cardinals.

"I think the protocols that have been set up are effective if they are followed, but in general, you know you may have some cases, but in general it is very much respected and carefully treated," said Ouellet.

Not 'just a Catholic problem'

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Ouellet, centre, has served as the prefect of the congregation for bishops, and is well known at the Vatican. (Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty)

The cardinal went on to say that sexual abuse is not just a Catholic problem, but also a human problem. And that it is his "hope" that the safeguards that are now in place "could be an example for others in society."  

Ouellet's comments come on the heels of the resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Britain's highest-ranking Catholic leader.

He gave up his post on Feb. 25 amid misconduct allegations made in a British newspaper that three serving priests and one former priest had filed complaints to the Vatican alleging that the cardinal acted inappropriately with them.

O'Brien has since removed himself from this month's conclave of cardinals that will select the next pope.

The Vatican insisted that Pope Benedict XVI accepted because O'Brien was nearing the retirement age of 75 — not because of the accusations.

The 1st Canadian pope

A major thread of the conversation between Mansbridge and Ouellet, which took place in the cardinal's personal quarters within the Vatican, focused on the future of the papacy.

Ouellet is one of three Canadians who will take part in the upcoming conclave, along with Cardinal Thomas Collins from Toronto and Quebec Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte. He has repeatedly played down his chances of becoming the next pontiff.

"I have to be ready even if I think that probably others could do it better," said Ouellet. "I will cross the river when I get to the bridge, and we are not there."

A considerable media frenzy has developed over which cardinal will be elected as the new pope, a decision that is expected to be made sometime in mid-March. Ouellet's name has been floated as one of the top contenders.

Some believe the Canadian has a breadth of experience that makes him ideal for the job.

He has experience working in the developing world, speaks six languages, and is an active member of several Roman Catholic commissions and committees. His current role at the Vatican has him overseeing the appointment of bishops.

Catholic scholar Tracey Rowland said if one was to make a checklist of credentials, Ouellet would be able to tick off every box. "Some people get a bit miffed that Americans seem to run everything," Rowland added. "They are less likely to vote for an American cardinal, but a Canadian could be quite acceptable."

Chance for 'a new future'

A papal election has never yielded a Canadian as a pontiff. Indeed, a non-European cardinal has never been chosen to lead the church.

During Mansbridge's interview with Ouellet, the cardinal acknowledged there has been a focus on Europe for centuries but that worshippers should not be surprised this time around if a cardinal from Asia, Africa or America is elected as the church's new leader.

The cardinal predicted that the decision "will be quite unexpected," but remained positive that whatever the result, this historic election will present a path to new and positive future for the church.

"We are all expecting something new because it is so new what we are living in these days, you know just this extraordinary decision of Pope Benedict," said Ouellet. "It opens up a new future."