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Sale of former convent creates conflict for archdiocese

LOS ANGELES — A member of the order of nuns in conflict with the archdiocese over the sale of a former convent in Los Feliz says she never agreed to make the property available to restaurant owner Dana Hollister instead of singer Katy Perry and believes someone else signed her name, giving the nod to the businesswoman.

In a sworn declaration given on behalf of the archdiocese, Sister Marie Christine Munoz Lopez says with the help of a Spanish-language translator that she joined the Sisters of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1969 and lived for a while in the Waverly Drive property, which is at the center of the dispute.

“I never signed any document approving the sale of the Waverly property and I never authorized anyone to sign on my behalf,” Lopez said. “It was always my understanding that the archbishop would have to approve any sale of the property and that the institute could not press forward with a sale without the archbishop’s permission.”

Lopez says someone else penned her name to the sale document.

“I understand that someone signed that document in my name,” Lopez said. “I did not sign it personally, nor did I authorize another person to do so.”

Lopez states that she no longer lives at the Waverly Drive property and now resides in a retirement home for nuns.

In additional court papers filed by the archdiocese’s attorneys, the lawyers state that only two of the five sisters in the order approved the sale to Hollister and that one of those nuns, Sister Catherine Rose Holzman, may have affixed Lopez’s name to the document. Holzman was one of two nuns who appeared on television last month to voice opposition to selling the property to the 30-year-old “Dark Horse” singer.

Wendy Coffelt, an attorney representing the nuns who want Hollister to have the property, did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment.

The June 19 suit states Hollister is considering using the property for a boutique hotel with a restaurant and bar. According to the lawsuit, the archdiocese’s lease of the buildings for the priests’ house of prayer has a remaining term of 77 years.

“Terminating that lease cannot occur without the consent and agreement of the archdiocese,” the suit states.

The archdiocese had no choice but to sue, according to a statement released by a spokeswoman in late June.

“Unfortunately, the archdiocese had to take civil action to protect against the unauthorized action by Ms. Hollister, which was undertaken after the preferred transaction had been accepted in consultation with the Sisters,” the archdiocese statement reads.

“The Hollister transaction lacks the required approval from the archdiocese and the Holy See and does not provide a solution for the house of prayer, which is on the property. The Archdiocese continues to work with the sisters to ensure that decisions concerning the sale of the property are made in their best interest. We want to make sure no one takes advantage of the sisters.”

Katy Perry
Katy Perry

The sale to Hollister was for $10 million, of which only $100,000 has been paid, according to the statement. The proposed sale to Perry would be worth $14.5 million, consisting of $10 million in cash and an agreement to provide an alternative property for the house of prayer worth $4.5 million, according to the archdiocese.

The same day the suit was filed, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert O’Brien issued a temporary restraining order directing Hollister to permit archdiocese officials and their attorneys to enter the property.

Lawyers for the archdiocese are now asking that a preliminary injunction be issued enjoining Hollister from occupying the property and from interfering with the plaintiffs’ attempts to sell the property to Perry. A hearing on whether a preliminary injunction should be issued is scheduled for July 9.

The Sisters of the Most Holy’s activities are overseen by the archdiocese under orders issued in 2005 and 2013 in which the Rev. Thomas Anslow was appointed to act as the legal agent authorized to act in all civil matters on behalf of the institute, the suit states.

In his sworn statement, Anslow says Perry’s representatives first inquired about the property in late 2011 or early 2012. He says the archbishop initially was cool to the idea and said it was not for sale.

However, last year Perry’s group made a renewed pitch, this time offering to build a new priests’ house of prayer elsewhere and to allow the clergy to remain on the property for a nominal rent until the new structure was completed, according to the archdiocese attorneys’ court papers.

But Perry’s precise plans for the property have not been publicly spelled out.