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Vatican protests French court ruling on nun’s dismissal

The Holy See expressed concern Saturday after a French civil court found a former senior Vatican official liable for authorizing the dismissal of a religious sister without just cause.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, pictured in Palazzola, near Rome, in 2013. © Mazur/

The Holy See press office said April 13 that the Vatican’s Secretariat of State had sent a note verbale — a diplomatic letter conveying discontent — to the French embassy to the Holy See following the court’s April 3 verdict in the case of Sabine Baudin de La Valette, whose religious name was Mother Marie Ferréol.


The press office said that the Vatican had only learned of the decision of the court in Lorient, western France, through media reports.

It added that Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Bishops at the time of Ferréol’s removal in 2020, never received a summons from the court.   

“Cardinal Marc Ouellet did indeed conduct an apostolic visit to the community of the Dominican Sisters of the Holy Spirit, in accordance with a pontifical mandate,” the Holy See press office said. 

“At the end of this visit, a series of canonical measures were adopted against Madame Sabine de la Valette, including her dismissal from this religious institute.”

The press office said that the court’s verdict “could not only raise important questions concerning immunity, but insofar as it concerns internal discipline and membership of a religious institute, it could have given rise to a serious violation of the fundamental rights to religious freedom and freedom of association of the Catholic faithful.”

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The Vatican’s response is the latest twist in a complex dispute that dates back many years and raises potentially far-reaching questions about the relationship between Church and state.

Sabine Baudin de La Valette joined the Dominican Sisters of the Holy Spirit, a society of apostolic life of pontifical right, in 1987. The institute was founded in 1943 in Pontcalec, Brittany, and is dedicated to education.

According to French media reports, the traditionalist community was plunged into a decade-long crisis in 2010, marked by internal divisions and disputes over governance. 

Pope Francis ordered an apostolic visitation conducted by the Benedictine Abbot Jean-Charles Nault and the Cistercian Abbess Emmanuelle Desjobert, and overseen by Cardinal Ouellet.

In October 2020, Ferréol was ordered to leave the community in Pontcalec. In a decree dated April 22, 2021 and signed by Ouellet, the Vatican dismissed her from the religious state. 

Pope Francis reportedly wrote to the community in December 2021, saying: “I have personally followed the developments in your situation, because it has become clear to me that, since the beginning of my pontificate, you have not always received adequate support from the authorities of the Holy See who were responsible for looking after you.”

In August 2023, France’s Le Monde newspaper reported that Ferréol had filed a civil suit against Ouellet — who stepped down as prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops in January that year — Nault, and Desjobert.

Ferréol said that she did not know the reason for her removal, contending that the step caused her “material and moral damage.”

The court in Lorient heard the case — which received widespread coverage in the French media — in October 2023. 

In its April 2024 ruling, the court concluded that Ferréol’s dismissal was unlawful. In a 17-page judgment, it ordered the religious institute, Ouellet, and the other defendants to pay more than 200,000 euros (around $212,000) in damages to the 57-year-old.

According to the French Catholic newspaper La Croix, Judge Armelle Picard said that Ferréol had been accused of “manipulation of people, destructive and critical remarks, repeated attacks on truth, a quarrelsome spirit, and systematic criticisms.”

When the judge questioned why the Vatican had not granted access to its files, Bertrand Ollivier, the lawyer representing Nault and Desjobert, said: “There is no right of access to the file in canonical matters.”

Following the court’s ruling, Ferréol’s lawyer, Adeline Le Gouvello, said: “The recognition of material and moral prejudice, which is essential, is only a first step towards the primary objective: the acknowledgment of injustice, moral rehabilitation, and the return to a religious community.”

In an April 3 statement, the Dominicans of the Holy Spirit said: “This dispute follows Pope Francis’ dismissal of Sabine de La Valette from religious life.”

“This decision was taken by the Sovereign Pontiff following the apostolic visitation carried out by religious visitors from outside of our institute.”

“The apostolic visitation heard many accounts of Sabine de La Valette’s seriously inappropriate behavior within our institute.”

The institute added that the court’s decision was “open to criticism on several grounds and we have instructed our lawyers to immediately appeal it to the Rennes court of appeal.”

“This appeal procedure will shed light on the many errors of fact and law committed by the first judge, in a context that has been much publicized by Sabine de la Valette,” it said.

La Croix said it has learned that Ouellet and the other defendants planned to appeal the court’s decision.

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