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French court sentences Cardinal Ouellet, religious community to fines after expelling nun

Cardinal Marc Ouellet takes part in the Pontifical Council for Culture’s Plenary Assembly on Women’s Cultures in Rome on Feb. 6, 2015. / Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

CNA Newsroom, Apr 5, 2024 / 13:10 pm (CNA).

A French court in Lorient, in Brittany, on Wednesday fined Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, PSS; the Dominican Sisters of the Holy Spirit in Pontcallec; and two apostolic visitors, Jean-Charles Nault and Maylis Desjobert, for the wrongful dismissal of Sabine Baudin de la Valette, whose religious name was Mother Marie Ferréol, according to LaCroix International.

Baudin de la Valette, 57, had reportedly lived in the monastery since 1987 without any significant incidents and then in 2011 denounced “serious abuses and facts” happening in the community. The situation then escalated, her lawyer said.

After 34 years of religious life, Baudin de la Valette was dismissed from her community in October 2020 after a visit from Ouellet. It was never made public what exactly the Vatican accused her of, and a complaint to Pope Francis against her dismissal was unsuccessful, according to The Tablet, which reported that the former sister said the dismissal decree “accused her of having an evil spirit but gave no concrete reasons.”

The French court has now said that the dismissal decree signed by Ouellet is not legally binding.

According to the court’s ruling, “in canon law, as in civil law, anyone who claims to be delegated must prove his delegation.” However, Ouellet did not present a specific mandate from the pope and was therefore not authorized to execute decrees of dismissal in a religious order. All decrees were signed by the cardinal or his secretary.

The court also said it was “surprised” that Ouellet “did not resign in his capacity as a close friend of one of the sisters of the Institute of the Dominican Sisters of the Holy Spirit.”

The court accused the religious community, among other things, of not correctly following the dismissal procedure. There was no prior warning and no reason for the dismissal from the community.

In addition, the court said, the community breached its duty of care when dismissing Baudin de la Valette, who was not offered any financial compensation that would have enabled her to “enjoy appropriate civil living conditions after 34 years of religious life and service to her community in the spirit of justice and charity as set out in canon law.”

With regard to the two apostolic visitors Nault and Desjobert, the court found that Nault had “impaired the exercise of the fundamental rights of the defense.” Every person, regardless of status, has “the right to know the exact nature of the acts they are accused of before being sentenced.”

“The visitors were not authorized to ignore the rules of canon law and general legal principles,” the court said.

After the verdict was announced, the attorneys for the Dominican Sisters and the apostolic visitors immediately announced they would appeal the decision. 

This article was originally published in CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, and has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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