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VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — The Vatican has expressed its consternation and warned the French government of a potential “violation of the fundamental rights to religious freedom” after a court reprimanded and fined Cardinal Marc Ouellet over his role in expelling a religious sister from her community of nuns.

“The Secretariat of State has sent a note verbale to the Embassy of France to the Holy See,” began a terse statement from the Holy See Press Office on Saturday, in which the Vatican revealed its opposition to an April 3 ruling by a court in Lorient, Brittany.

On April 3, the court of Lorient issued a condemnation against Cardinal Marc Ouellet, his accompanying two apostolic visitors, and a Dominican community of nuns for their dismissal of Sister Marie Ferréol in 2021. 

READ: French court fines Cardinal Ouellet for unjustly dismissing nun from traditional community  

The court ruled that Ferréol had “suffered a disgraceful and vexatious dismissal, without having committed any crime, on the basis of unestablished grounds and having been returned to secular life without care.” Additionally, the Lorient court stated that Ferréol’s expulsion from the community had been without proper cause and “without respect for canon law and fundamental human rights.”

Ouellet was not only roundly criticized by the court but fined extensively for his actions regarding Ferréol. 

Writing about its note verbale on Saturday, the Vatican stated that “the Holy See learned only from the press about the alleged decision of the Court of Lorient, France, regarding a civil dispute concerning the resignation from a religious institute of Ms. Sabine de la Valette (formerly Sister Marie Ferréol).”

According to the Vatican’s statement, Ouellet did not receive “any writ of summons” from the Lorient court.

The Vatican defended the Canadian cardinal, saying that he was conducting an “apostolic visitation” to the traditional-Mass focused Dominican community “in compliance with a papal mandate.” 

“At the conclusion of this visitation, a series of canonical measures were taken against Ms. Sabine de la Valette, including her dismissal from the religious institute,” declared the Holy See. 

Ouellet – the former prefect of the Congregation for Bishops from 2010 through 2023 – signed the order dismissing Ferréol from her community of over 30 years and has stated that he was acting on the orders of the pope with his visitation. The nun has stated that she received no reason for her expulsion. 

Further defending the emeritus prefect’s actions, the statement warned of potential wider-reaching consequences of the court’s ruling:

A potential ruling from the Lorient tribunal could raise not only significant issues concerning immunity, but if it ruled on internal discipline and membership in a religious institute, it might have constituted a serious violation of the fundamental rights to religious freedom and freedom of association of Catholic faithful.

On the order of the Lorient court, Ouellet, the apostolic visitors, and the religious community will now have to pay damages to Ferréol. Her lawyer stated that the nun has suffered “material and moral” harm, as well as “an attack on her honor and privacy.”

As LifeSiteNews has reported, Ouellet’s expulsion of Ferréol came over a period of months between October 2020 and April 2021. The sister was eventually told that by the Vatican that she was not suited for the religious life, formally “relieved” of her vow of virginity, and ordered to remove her traditional Dominican habit.

Her lawyer stated she “has never known the facts of which she was allegedly guilty, despite repeated requests from her and her lawyer. Communication was refused on the grounds of ‘confidentiality.’” Ferréol condemned the “unlawful, harsh and vexatious conditions” regarding her expulsion from the community.

She appeared as the chief recipient of punitive measures from the Vatican amidst tensions that had been ongoing in the traditional community for many years. 

The Ecclesia Dei commission had conducted an investigation into the community in 2013, over an internal conflict amongst the relatively young order about its founder, Father Victor-Alain Berto, and his proposed cause for canonization.

With the Ecclesia Dei commission issuing its ruling in 2016 exonerating Berto from allegations of improper behavior, a new superior was installed with an aim to unify the community.

Tensions nevertheless continued, and Ouellet’s apostolic visit came as the culminating event in the internal tensions, as the cardinal sought to align the traditional community with Francis’ more modern style of practice.

Pope Francis previously sought to distance himself from and condemn Ecclesia Dei’s decision, in a move that sought to cast the commission’s thorough investigation into doubt.

READ: Pope Francis’ letter to traditional Dominican nuns has all the signs of another Vatican takeover

The convent has, since Ouellet’s arrival in 2020, become a center for efforts to transform the Dominican community away from its traditional focus and celebration of the traditional Mass into a community led by the Vatican’s focus on the Novus Ordo. Indeed, reports have stated that the more traditional members of the community are being restricted in their actions and their contact with others, as the apostolic visitation works to implement a more modern practice of spirituality and liturgy.

Ouellet’s leadership of the community away from its focus on the traditional Mass has previously gone largely unreported, with the Vatican now making a firmer defense of the cardinal than when he was initially the subject of sexual abuse allegations.