Since 2015, an ongoing and bizarre property dispute has been brewing. Salacious headlines will urge you to think it’s between Katy Perry and a few nuns, feuding over a California convent. But the truth is less salacious and more depressing. The Catholic Church is to blame.
The Convent of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is an eight-acre estate in the trendy neighborhood of Los Feliz that the nuns in question had cared for over decades. But as they got older and their numbers dwindled, the diocese decided to sell the property. The nuns wanted to sell to restaurateur Dana Hollister for $15.5 million so she could turn it into a posh hotel. But there was a snag. The nuns didn’t own the property. In 1992, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles took financial responsibility of the convent and its lands. And Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez chose to sell it to pop star Katy Perry for $14.5 million. That resulted in a legal battle over who had the right to sell the convent, and the Catholic Church won. Which means Perry gets the land; Hollister’s hotel plans are dead. And the nuns are broke.
Why are the nuns broke, though? SURELY, the Catholic Church would care for the five surviving nuns who not only maintained the property but also gave their lives to the church. Nope! According to 80-year-old Sister Rita Callanan, Archbishop Gómez finalized the sale with Perry, then shipped the nuns off to a retirement home and closed their bank accounts. You might think, ‘Well, nuns are meant to live humbly anyhow.’ Humbly sure. But not in life-threatening poverty. See, Callahan has diabetes and breast cancer, but can’t afford her health insurance premiums because of the Archbishop’s decisions. And she notes the archdiocese has reduced her monthly stipend and will not pay for their legal costs.
“(Archbishop Gomez) is claiming he’s taking care of us, that’s not true,” Callahan told the Daily Mail. “We send bills up there and they don’t get paid…it’s just punishment.”
Even more tragic, earlier this month 89-year-old Sister Catherine Rose Holzman died during a court appearance over this dispute. So, naturally gossip rags are trying to make it sound like Perry is some horrible slutty heathen who has made cancer-stricken nuns homeless, and now she’s basically killing them.
Keep in mind, these are the same outlets that happily touted slut-shaming stories about how the nuns wouldn’t have sold to Perry even if they could because they find her “disgusting,” covered in tattoos, and suspect she may be into witchcraft because she went to Salem once. (Beware, this is a link to Daily Mail.) Never forget how much the media loves a “women hating on women” narrative, even when it’s a man (Gomez) who is at the heart of the matter.
It’s a juicy narrative. The sultry songstress who was once a Christian music singer battles poor, angry, ill nuns! But this coverage blithely ignores who is really to blame here. The Catholic Church had the right to sell to whomever they chose. And the nuns may not have liked Perry, but that’s beside the point. These sisters shouldn’t have been cast out to die in poverty. And in their desperate bid to preserve themselves, they’re turning to whoever will listen. Which means shady gossip outlets hungry to tie “Katy Perry” to any outrageous headline they can.
“If (Gomez) can take our money, so can any archbishop or cardinal anywhere,” Callahan tried to plead to the Daily Mail, which ran that quote after 13 images of Perry and the disputed property, “The other sisters are watching us. Instead of standing up with us and fighting, they’re hiding their money, pretending they haven’t got any, as they don’t want this to happen to them.”
I get that it’s far less sexy to run a headline that says: The Catholic Church Betrays Nuns’ Trust. EVIL SEX WITCH KATY PERRY KILLS NUN is way more exciting. But by focusing on the star instead of the story, outlets have turned these sisters and their plight into novelties for the clicks. This is a story we should be outraged over, but not because a pop star made a problematic real estate deal. We should be outraged that an institution that’s meant to be devoted to community and care for the sick is failing its own members, and moreover punishing them by cutting off their limited funds. This is grotesque. And it could happen again. But it’s not sexy. So who cares?