On March 10, Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Catherine Rose Holzman died in a Los Angeles courtroom where she and a fellow sister had been fighting for the last two and a half years to prevent pop star Katy Perry from taking their convent away from them. Her devastating final words were: “Katy Perry, please stop.”
So ran the headlines last week everywhere, including in one of the nation’s most trusted news outlets, The Washington Post.
But believe it or not, the only part of that story that is accurate is that Sister Holzman, 89, tragically passed away in a Los Angeles courtroom.
In fact, there is no current legal proceeding between Ms. Perry and any I.H.M. sisters. And at no point has Ms. Perry or the Archdiocese of Los Angeles been involved in the eviction of the nuns from their home.
In 2014, the archdiocese agreed to sell Ms. Perry a piece of property in the hills of Los Angeles that is currently the home of a retreat house for priests. That property included a large convent building previously owned by the I.H.M. Institute—the sisters’ religious community.
No sister has lived in the building since 2011, though, and legal responsibility for the property had passed to the archdiocese some years earlier after the archdiocese found that the few nuns remaining were of failing health. As early as 1992 the nuns had agreed not to sell any property without permission of the archbishop.
The only part of the Katy Perry and the nuns story that is accurate is that Sister Holzman tragically passed away in a Los Angeles courtroom.
When they heard about the impending sale to Ms. Perry, two of the nuns—Sister Holzman and Sister Rita Callanan—pre-emptively sold the property to Dana Hollister, a local businesswoman who immediately took occupancy and then refused to cede the deed. The three other IHM sisters condemned the move.
In the intervening years the press has consistently focused on Ms. Perry. But in fact the only legal question has been the validity of the deal between the two sisters and Ms. Hollister.
And three different courts have now ruled the deal not only invalid but bad for the sisters. Sisters Holzman and Callanan sold the multimillion dollar property to Ms. Hollister for just $100,000 upfront, with no requirement to pay anything more for three years and no ability to collect the $15 million Ms. Hollister promised if she were to decide to opt out.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant ruled in July 2015 that the transaction was “clearly invalid.” “I don't know why they sold to her,” he said. “It was a bad deal.” In April 2016, another Superior Court judge, Stephanie Bowick, upheld Mr. Chalfant’s decision.
And in December 2017 a jury found that Ms. Hollister had acted with “malice, oppression and fraud.” The court awarded the I.H.M. Institute, the archdiocese and Ms. Perry a total of $15 million, including $10 million in punitive damages. Earlier this month, Ms. Hollister declared bankruptcy.
Even the sad circumstances of Sister Holzman’s “final words” have been totally misrepresented. Sister Holzman did not address a plea to Katy Perry as she collapsed in a courtroom where the case of the convent sale was being discussed.
In fact, her comment came during an interview with Los Angeles’ FOX affiliate earlier that same day. And the legal proceeding she was attending had nothing to do with the convent. She and Sister Callanan were attending Ms. Hollister’s initial bankruptcy hearing.
You can see how the press would want the story to be about the pop star. It gets clicks.
But it is also troubling. The California legal system has now repeatedly ruled that two elderly nuns were being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous businessperson, and no one is reporting that.
As women’s religious orders like the I.H.M. decline in health and numbers, the broader question of what church leaders should be able to do with their property raises complicated questions about gender and power in the church. But that story, with a few exceptions, is not being reported, either.
At the same time, at age 33 Ms. Perry has already been given UNICEF’s Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award for her work “in support of the world’s most vulnerable children.” She has received The Trevor Project’s Trevor Hero Award for her work in support of the L.G.B.T.Q. community, particularly youth.
Ms. Perry has donated the proceeds of one album to support musical education for underprivileged children; teamed with Staples to raise money for teachers in public schools; and done benefits for breast cancer victims, HIV/AIDS awareness, the Humane Society, Global Water, the Children’s Health Fund, the A.S.P.C.A., Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art, the It Gets Better Project, victims of the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing and musicians in crisis, among other groups. She has lent her time to campaign for free health care, the empowerment of women and increased gun control.
Ms. Perry was never “battling nuns” or trying to bankrupt them. She made a deal with the archdiocese, then watched as two elderly nuns she knew nothing about began claiming she was doing them harm as a way of attacking the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. (Sister Callanan continues to spin that argument to this day, saying to the Daily Beast yesterday, “Katy Perry is used to getting what she wants.”)
It is a tragedy that Sister Holzman’s final years were consumed by this controversy. But it is also a travesty that the press continues to promote her claims unexamined.