Cardinal Ouellet found liable for religious dismissal

The Pillar [Washington DC]

April 4, 2024

By Michelle LaRosa

A civil court in Lorient, France has ruled that Cardinal Marc Ouellet and the Dominicans of the Holy Spirit dismissed a religious sister from her community without just cause.

Ouellet, the former prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Bishops, led an apostolic visitation of the community shortly before the abrupt 2021 expulsion of the 57-year-old Mother Marie Ferréol from her religious house.

Ouellet signed the decree that removed Ferréol, who had lived in the Brittany community since 1987. The nun was initially exclaustrated — a kind of temporary removal from community life — before she was definitively dismissed from the community in April 2021.

The sister said she was given no reason for her removal, which she argues was an assault on her reputation and privacy, and caused her “material and moral damage.”

The French court’s April 3 ruling argued that there was no evidence that Ferréol’s removal had been carried out in accord with the community’s own statutes.

“It has not been demonstrated that the decree…signed by Cardinal Ouellet…would have received any papal approval,” the ruling stated, according to AFP.

The court instructed the religious community and Ouellet – along with two other apostolic visitors – to pay Ferréol a total of more than 200,000 euro in damages, AFP reported.

The Dominicans of the Holy Spirit were founded in 1943 by French traditionalist priest Victor-Alain Berto.

In 2013, Vatican officials with the later-dissolved Ecclesia Dei Commission conducted an investigation of the community, following reports of sexual advances by the then-deceased founder, as well as reports that some sisters with psychological problems had been required to undergo unauthorized exorcisms.

The investigation found governance issues in the community and led to dismissal of its superior. A pontifical commissioner was appointed to reform the community.

After further investigation, the Vatican cleared Fr. Berto of sexual wrongdoing, noting that the alleged actions were past the statute of limitations, and that the priest was dead and could not present a defense.

The sisters were told they must “refrain from questioning this judgment.”

But a second apostolic visitation in 2020 raised questions about the conclusions of the previous investigation.

In 2021, Pope Francis wrote to the community to apologize for poor handling of the community’s situation by the Vatican.

The pope acknowledged that the community had “not always received adequate support from the authorities of the Holy See who were responsible for looking after you.”

He particularly apologized for the Vatican’s initial stance on Berto and the failure to take two allegations of sexual abuse by another sister seriously.

Ferréol’s dismissal came after the second apostolic visitation, which was led by Ouellet.

The nun’s lawyers say Ferréol had denounced “serious abuses” in 2011. It is unclear whether those abuses were among the reports that led to the 2013 investigation of the community.