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‘Veritatis Splendor’ priests expected to leave Tyler diocese

A group of priests associated with a controversial residential project in the Diocese of Tyler, Texas is expected to leave the diocese, as their efforts to reach a stable canonical status have faltered, according to sources close to the diocese.

Fr. André Metrejean, priest of the Diocese of Lafayette and leader of the Pious House community in Tyler. Image via Veritatis Splendor/YouTube.

Bishop Joe Vásquez, apostolic administrator of the Tyler diocese, met Monday morning with the board of Veritatis Splendor, a planned Catholic residential community in the diocese which has faced controversy involving its leadership’s financial administration and personal conduct.

According to sources close to the diocese, Vásquez told board members that an ongoing effort to establish an Oratory of St. Philip Neri at the Veritatis Splendor project’s chapel has stalled, and that the two priests and three laymen associated with the project will be expected to return to their dioceses. 

The community apparently hasn’t “done the things required for them to be established as an oratory. So the issue is just that they're not an oratory, and they don't appear on the path to become one,” a source close to the chancery told The Pillar.

“They've known this was coming for a while, and they've been looking for another diocese. but they haven't found a bishop who will take them," the source added.


Founded in 2021, the Veritatis Splendor project aimed to build an intentional community of Catholic families from scratch, with ambitious designs for a planned town to be built in the Texas countryside but hit early problems when members of its leadership were embroiled in a scandal involving an adulterous relationship among some of its leaders as well as allegations of financial misconduct.

In an interview with Crisis magazine in November, 2023, Jason Stern, a board member of the project, said that while the scandal had caused some participants to back out of the planned development, the community currently had “about 75 lots” of which “the majority of those are sold,” and that “about 15 houses are either built or being built.”

The viability of the project has been called into question, however, after the removal of Bishop Joseph Strickland, who was highly supportive of the would-be community since its launch, as Tyler’s diocesan bishop. 

“One of the main reasons why [they] chose East Texas and why [they] landed here was obviously Bishop Strickland. Bishop Strickland played a huge role in our decision,” Stern said last year, just before Pope Francis’ decision to remove him from office.

The two priests connected to the Veritatis Splendor project, along with three seminarians, were expected to serve as the founders of an oratory, recognized by the Oratorians of St. Philip Neri, that would serve Holy Family Chapel which was to be the anchor of the 500-acre Veritatis Splendor residential community. 

The priests have been resident at a rectory identified as Pious House, in Tyler, as they worked for approval to canonically erect an oratory. 

Until Monday, the Pious House website listed two priests as resident, ordained for the Diocese of Lafayette, La., and the Archdiocese of Atlanta, respectively, together with the three seminarians, all with roots in the Lafayette diocese.

But on the afternoon of May 6, the Pious House website removed the link to access to the profiles of the community members, placing biography pages into a section of the site restricted by a password.

One of the two priests listed as living at Pious House and working with the community is Fr. Augustine Tran, of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Tran is currently involved in complicated litigation related to the personal and financial scandals which hit the project’s early leaders

Tran is being sued by co-founders of the Veritatis Splendor project, who along with Tran had been involved with Regina Caeli, a Catholic homeschooling program that had once been financially connected with Veritatis Splendor

The Veritatis Splendor project has in recent years been often associated with attachment to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the celebration of which was significantly restricted by Pope Francis. The priests of Pious House have offered both the Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form of the liturgy at the Veritatis Splendor chapel.

But attachment to the Extraordinary Form does not seem likely to have been the issue causing difficulty for the priests. Several oratories of St. Philip Neri offer the Extraordinary Form, and two different religious communities in the Diocese of Tyler do as well: the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, and the Canons Regular of St. Augustine.

Vásquez has served as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Tyler since November 2023, after Pope Francis deposed the former diocesan leader Bishop Joseph Strickland.

Strickland was removed from office by Pope Francis following an apostolic visitation of the Tyler diocese the previous summer. 

The Pillar reported that the visitation which led to Strickland’s removal included questions about the governance of a diocesan high school, considerable staff turnover in the diocesan curia, the bishop’s welcome of a controversial former religious sister as a high school employee, and the bishop’s support for the Veritatis Splendor project.

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 The departure of the Pious House priests from Tyler will likely be seen as a new challenge to the viability of the Veritatis Splendor project into doubt, since the community’s plan is built around a residential community at the chapel to provide pastoral care for the community. 

The Holy Family Chapel project raised nearly $25,000 online following an appeal launched in March of 2022 — short of the stated goal of $40,000 — but construction has successfully been completed according to Stern.

The Veritatis Splendor community’s website returned a “critical error” and could not be loaded, and contact information was not readily listed for board members. 

A May email from the board to community members, seen by The Pillar, advertised a virtual town hall meeting to be held at 7pm CT on May 6 to discuss the meeting with the bishop.

The Diocese of Tyler did not respond to requests from The Pillar for comment.

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