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Jury selection begins in suit over former convent

LOS ANGELES — A decade after the Archdiocese of Los Angeles paid about $600 million to settle allegations of clergy abuse, memories of the scandal loomed over a downtown courtroom Oct. 30 as prospective jurors were interviewed for a trial pitting the religious body and singer Katy Perry against a businesswoman concerning the purchase of a former convent.

Though the lawsuit filed against Dana Hollister deals with a real estate transaction and not with inappropriate behavior by priests with young parishioners, many jurors who spoke individually with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephanie Bowick and the attorneys said their memories of the molestations have not faded.

Archdiocese attorney Kirk Dillman and the other attorneys took turns questioning the prospective jurors, who were given a questionnaire last week to fill out regarding their ability to serve.

A lawyer who said he was of the Jewish faith said he has no particular bias toward nuns or the Catholic Church in general, but was swayed by past media coverage of pedophile priests and believes that bishops and popes were heavily to blame for what happened to the victims.

“For me, the higher-ups probably had some knowledge and turned a blind eye, I suppose,” he said.

The juror also said that given the large amount of the 2007 settlement, it probably meant that the church agreed to the resolution based on the merits of the case rather than just to have it go away.

The juror, who says he manages seven attorneys in a law firm and that one of the cases they are currently handling is related to the Harvey Weinstein sex scandal, said he bears no ill will toward the church.

“I don’t hate the Catholic Church, but I wouldn’t go into it with a completely blank slate,” he said.

The juror was one of several individuals dismissed by Bowick based on their interviews.

Another prospective juror, who called himself an agnostic, wrote on his jury questionnaire that he was “not particularly fond of the Catholic Church” and that the clergy abuse was a major reason.

“It was a pretty big scandal,” he said. “I have children of my own. I know there were a lot of false accusations, but it left a bad taste in my mouth.”

A woman who said she belonged to an Armenian church said she, too, was affected by the media coverage at the time of the abuse revelations.

“I don’t mean to offend anyone in here,” she said.

She praised nuns in the church, saying they appeared to be “charitable and community-oriented.”

Yet another non-Catholic said she was disturbed by the way many abusive priests were simply moved to other parishes and said she believe high-ranking church individuals such as former Archbishop Roger Mahony were aware of the cover-ups.

“I don’t have the greatest opinion of organized religion,” she said, adding that many of her friends are “lapsed Catholics.”

The lawsuit alleges Hollister knew she did not have the written authority of the archbishop to buy the property on Waverly Drive, but recorded the deed anyway. The archdiocese and Perry maintain Hollister’s actions forced them to come to court and fight for two years to get the Hollister transaction undone.

Hollister made the purchase through Sisters Rita Callanan and Catherine Rose Holzman, who maintained they had the authority to sell the property to the businesswoman. Bowick later canceled the deal.

Hollister’s attorneys have denied any wrongdoing on her part and said her actions never interfered with the contract between Perry and the archdiocese.

Holzman and Callanan are among five members of the California Institute of the Sisters of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary and are the only members who are against the sale of their former home to the 32-year-old “Roar” singer.

The property has been vacant since 2011 because it became too costly for the retired sisters to maintain and no longer accommodated their physical needs, and the proceeds from any sale of the property would go to the IHM Institute, according to the archdiocese.

The archdiocese started the litigation by filing suit against Hollister in June 2015. Perry later joined the litigation through a cross-complaint through her company, The Bird Nest LLC. The archdiocese is seeking about $3.5 million in damages and Perry is asking for about $2 million.

Eric Rowen, the attorney for Perry and Bird Nest, said the singer will not testify or attend the trial, even though she is scheduled to perform during her “Witness: The Tour” at Staples Center on Nov. 7, 8 and 10, overlapping at least part of the trial.

The proposed sale to Perry would be for $14.5 million, consisting of $10 million in cash and an agreement to provide an alternative property for a house of prayer worth $4.5 million, according to the archdiocese. In contrast, Hollister paid $44,000 and agreed to a contingent promissory note, archdiocese attorney J. Michael Hennigan has said.

 

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