Katy Perry must wait to buy a $15-million former convent from the Los Angeles archbishop as a judge refused -- for now -- to evict a local developer who bought it last month from disgruntled nuns.
At a sometimes boisterous court hearing Thursday, with the nuns and their supporters at times booing the archbishop’s lawyer, a judge said the sale of church property by the sisters was improper and invalid. The judge also said the archbishop can’t sell it to the pop diva while the lawsuit is unresolved.
“Nobody gets this property during the pendency of this lawsuit,” California Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant told the lawyers.
The judge set another hearing for Sept. 15 and ordered the lawyers to provide him with proposals for an intermediate remedy that would be best for the five remaining Sisters of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Until 2011, they lived in the Romanesque villa on the 8-acre hilltop estate.
The case pits two of the five sisters against Archbishop Jose Gomez who agreed to sell the estate to Perry, the flamboyant pop singer who rose to fame with the hit “I Kissed A Girl” and has been known to shoot whipped cream out of her brassiere.
The sisters aren’t fans -- “for what should be obvious reasons coming from Catholic nuns,” they said in a filing. They claim the head of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles illegally amended the bylaws of the nonprofit that has title to the property in a “hostile takeover” so he could seal the deal with Perry against their wishes.
For his part, Gomez cites both canon and California law as being on his side in the bid to annul the nuns’ transaction with local restaurateur Dana Hollister. She’s taken possession of the place, and has started fixing it up.
“It’s fascinating on all different levels,” said Sonia Lee, a lawyer not involved in the case. “I never thought I’d see the day when Katy Perry is in bed with the archbishop.”
Chalfant ordered lawyers for Hollister and the archbishop to provide him with proposals how much monthly rent the developer, or Perry, should pay for the property, whose main building was designed by the architect who created the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, pending a decision who gets it.
The archbishop accuses Hollister of taking advantage of Sisters Rita Callanan, 77, Catherine Rose Holzma, 86, and other nuns who once lived in the villa, by paying only $100,000 upfront and the balance with a $9.9 million promissory note
His lawsuit, which claims only he and the Vatican can decide the fate of the property, asks that the sale to Hollister “be declared void as a product of elder abuse.”
Hollister called the allegation “ridiculous” and defended the sisters’ mental fitness. “They’re not dumb at all,” she said Wednesday. “No one is saying Warren Buffett is 84 years old and can’t run his own company.”
Sister Jean-Marie Dunne doesn’t like Gomez’s attitude either. The 88-year-old has said she doesn’t want any part of the public confrontation, according to court documents, but an e-mail she sent him became part of the record. “OLD AGE does not necessarily = SENILITY,” she wrote.
The nuns moved out of the villa in 2011. Hollister, who lives in another former convent nearby, said she’s done some work, restoring the pool and removing an altar from the main room, which has a 30-foot ceiling and hand-carved fireplace.
According to Sisters Rita and Catherine Rose, Gomez told them last year that he wanted to sell to “someone named Katherine Hudson,” who they later learned was Katy Perry.
They weren’t happy with the idea that they wouldn’t be in charge of proceeds of a sale, nor with the prospect of the villa being occupied by someone who favors bustiers and was described as a “full-on male fantasy” in GQ magazine.
“In selling to Katy Perry, we feel we are being forced to violate our canonical vows to the Catholic Church,” Sister Catherine Rose wrote in a June 13 e-mail.
The sisters met Perry in May, at Gomez’s behest. The singer, the daughter of pastors who has a “Jesus” tattoo on her wrist, sang “Oh Happy Day” for them, according to the Los Angeles Times, but failed to impress.
On July 20, the sisters and the nonprofit sued Gomez, and he agreed not to close the Perry sale before an Oct. 15 hearing in that case. As for his suit, he filed to “help the Sisters regain possession of their property and ensure that any future proceeds of an authorized sale will be dedicated to their care,” the archdiocese said last week.
Sister Jean-Marie might not buy that. She called the archdiocese short on “humility and honesty” in her e-mail, and the men in charge “rather obsessed with their misconception of their sovereign, ecclesiastical canonical importance.”
Bernard Resser, a lawyer for the nuns, said in a e-mail after Thursday’s hearing that the sisters have demonstrated they are self-sufficient and capable of conducting their own affairs.
“We’re pleased that the sisters’ efforts to maintain their independence, control the sale and the proceeds of the sale remain alive and well,” he said.
The case is Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles v. Hollister, BC585604, Los Angeles County Superior Court.