Nuns roar back at Katy Perry, claiming mistranslation of Vatican decree allowing purchase of convent

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Katy Perry will hear an order of LA-area nuns "Roar" after the sisters this week accused local church officials of misquoting the Vatican to smooth the singer's $14.5 million purchase of a contested convent.

Perry had seemingly won the right to purchase the 22,000-square-foot Mediterranean mansion that once housed the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary order after a judge ruled for Perry and the LA archdiocese and against the nuns. But on Monday, lawyers for Sisters Rita Callanan and Catherine Rose Holzman asked the state Superior Court judge to consider new evidence – a translation they say shows a Vatican decree regarding the case was misrepresented.

“In fact, and completely contrary to what [LA archdiocese] represented to the Court, the Decree, when properly translated from its original Latin into English, stated in no uncertain terms that the dispute” was still being decided in Rome, the motion states.

“Katy Perry and others will learn: you don’t mess with these nuns.”

— Margaret Cone, attorney for nuns

Court documents obtained by allege that the “false translation” implying that the Vatican had not approved the Sisters’ sale and it was no longer under consideration was provided by the representatives for the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

None of the five nuns remaining from the order, which once numbered 52, live on the property, which has belonged to the order since it was bequeathed to it some 40 years ago. They claim the right to sell it, and had already struck a $15.5 million deal with local developer and restaurateur Dana Hollister.

After striking a deal with the nuns nearly a year ago, Hollister registered the deed and moved into the property. But the archdiocese moved to nullify that sale and, two weeks ago, Los Angeles Superior Court judge Stephanie Bowick ruled that church officials, not the nuns, had the right to sell the eight-acre convent on Waverly Place in the Los Feliz section.

Bowick’s ruling, according to the motion, rested heavily on a translation of the decree from the Vatican, which was provided by the archdiocese’s legal team.

Perry wants to move into the former convent, but the sale is tied up in courts.

Perry wants to move into the former convent, but the sale is tied up in courts. (Associated Press)

“The Court’s ruling was substantially based on its belief that all proceedings in the Vatican had been terminated,” the motion states.

In her ruling, Bowick declared that the resolution “involves matters of church doctrine” and to avoid interfering with religious governance, state courts “generally defer to the decisions of ecclesiastical courts or tribunals that touch and concern matters or religious doctrine.” In this case, she determined that there was no evidence the sale to Perry was still under consideration in Rome.

Given that all sales of church property require Vatican approval, Sister Callanan last June submitted a petition to the Roman Rota Tribunal – the highest appellate tribunal of the Roman Catholic Church – to approve the Hollister transaction. The Tribunal responded in December, and that response – in Latin - is the subject of the dueling translations, with the archdiocese saying the issue had been decided and the nuns saying it was passed to a different division of the Vatican – the Dicastery – and is pending. The motion also claims that the LA archdiocese knew that the petition had been moved to the Dicastery, but “failed to inform the Court of that crucial fact.

“The translation was a proper, verified translation,” Mike Hennigan, an attorney for the Archdiocese, told “This motion appears to be an effort to delay the Court's finding that the Hollister transaction was invalid.”

The five nuns still alive, all in their late 70s or older, say the sale of the property is their sole means of providing for themselves. They charge the archdiocese is seeking to make the sale so it can control the proceeds. But according to one of the nuns' attorneys, Margaret Cone, the nuns have a paper trail on their side that that leads to the Holy See.

“The sisters have been five steps ahead of everybody all along. They have been dealing with the Vatican on this issue since last June,” Cone said. “Katy Perry and others will learn: you don’t mess with these nuns.”

The Vatican did not respond to requests for comment. A legal representative for the singer told that they "confident in the judge’s ruling and do not believe that there are any grounds to support any change to the decision."