Latin figures in property dispute between nuns and Katy Perry

I’m not sure who Katy Perry is, though I have heard the name. I think she may be a pop tart. In any event, here is a strange story about her and some nuns in a property dispute. And it involves Latin translation!

From Fox 411:

Nuns roar back at Katy Perry, claiming mistranslation of Vatican decree allowing purchase of convent

Katy Perry will hear an order of LA-area nuns “Roar” after the sisters this week accused local church officials of misquoting the Vatican to smooth the singer’s $14.5 million purchase of a contested convent.

Perry had seemingly won the right to purchase the 22,000-square-foot Mediterranean mansion that once housed the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary order after a judge ruled for Perry and the LA archdiocese and against the nuns. But on Monday, lawyers for Sisters Rita Callanan and Catherine Rose Holzman asked the state Superior Court judge to consider new evidence – a translation they say shows a Vatican decree regarding the case was misrepresented.

“In fact, and completely contrary to what [LA archdiocese] represented to the Court, the Decree, when properly translated from its original Latin into English, stated in no uncertain terms that the dispute” was still being decided in Rome, the motion states.


Time out. You might not know this. When it comes to alienation (sale) of Church property, if the value is over a certain amount, permission from the Holy See is required. Civil courts generally respect the Church’s internal law in these matters… generally, not always. I was at a Canon Law conference (now annual, sponsored by Card. Burke at the Guadalupe Shrine in LaCrosse, WI) which had presentations on civil law and property. At that time it was reported that the trend in civil law seems to be more and more not to respect the Church’s internal law. This swings back and forth, apparently, over the decades. But I digress.


Court documents obtained by allege that the “false translation” implying that the Vatican had not approved the Sisters’ sale and it was no longer under consideration was provided by the representatives for the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

None of the five nuns remaining from the order, which once numbered 52, live on the property, which has belonged to the order since it was bequeathed to it some 40 years ago. They claim the right to sell it, and had already struck a $15.5 million deal with local developer and restaurateur Dana Hollister.

After striking a deal with the nuns nearly a year ago, Hollister registered the deed and moved into the property. But the archdiocese moved to nullify that sale and, two weeks ago, Los Angeles Superior Court judge Stephanie Bowick ruled that church officials, not the nuns, had the right to sell the eight-acre convent on Waverly Place in the Los Feliz section.

Bowick’s ruling, according to the motion, rested heavily on a translation of the decree from the Vatican, which was provided by the archdiocese’s legal team.

“The Court’s ruling was substantially based on its belief that all proceedings in the Vatican had been terminated,” the motion states.

In her ruling, Bowick declared that the resolution “involves matters of church doctrine” and to avoid interfering with religious governance, state courts “generally defer to the decisions of ecclesiastical courts or tribunals that touch and concern matters or religious doctrine.” [As I was saying.] In this case, she determined that there was no evidence the sale to Perry was still under consideration in Rome.

Given that all sales of church property require Vatican approval, Sister Callanan last June submitted a petition to the Roman Rota Tribunal – the highest appellate tribunal of the Roman Catholic Church – to approve the Hollister transaction. The Tribunal responded in December, and that response – in Latin – is the subject of the dueling translations, with the archdiocese saying the issue had been decided and the nuns saying it was passed to a different division of the Vatican – the Dicastery – and is pending. The motion also claims that the LA archdiocese knew that the petition had been moved to the Dicastery, but “failed to inform the Court of that crucial fact.  [The Archdiocese of LA failed to report a “crucial fact”?  Say it ain’t so!]



Okay… read the rest there. Meanwhile, there is a photo of Katy Perry in that article. I must admit that I couldn’t have picked her out of a line up.  I’m probably not in her target audience.

I, for none, would like to see that Latin. H==

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. A more charitable (and likely?) assumption might be that–rather than deliberately presenting a mistranslation–the Los Angeles chancery officials responsible were not sufficiently proficient in Latin to translate the letter correctly.

  2. Gerard Plourde says:

    The order involved has a complicated history which may be contributing to the controversy.

    Following the Second Vatican Council, the order sought unilaterally to revise its rule. This move was opposed by their Archbishop, Cardinal McIntyre. The order appealed to the Vatican which decided in the Archbishop’s favor. At that point the majority of the sisters chose to be released from their vows and formed an independent lay association called the Immaculate Heart Community. The group who remained under the jurisdiction of the archdiocese (about sixty-eight sisters at the time of the split) retained the name Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virging Mary and are the order who are currently in the dispute with the Archdiocese with the property at issue. As the news reports indicate, the order has dwindled to a membership of five sisters.

    At the time of the order’s split it was housed at a number of properties. The dispensed group maintained title and control of Immaculate Heart College and Immaculate Heart High School. The property at issue (ironically, the motherhouse) must either not have been clearly titled to the order from the time of its initial acquisition or may have been transferred by deed to the remaining sisters in a way that did not give them sole title, but rather gave the Archdiocese a share of ownership (either joint tenancy or tenancy in common).

  3. kekeak2008 says:

    Yet another reason that all clergy should be highly proficient in Latin…

  4. J.M.C. says:

    Building on Gerard Plourde’s comment, there is a slight happy ending to the whole IHM controversy story—a handful of IHM Sisters who wanted to remain faithful to their vows and a traditional understanding of religious life left Los Angeles, made a new foundation in Kansas, and is now a small but vibrant and growing community:

    (I know that’s a bit off-topic, but we need to take good news where we can find it!)

  5. NBW says:

    Why not sell the Crystal Cathedral to Katie Perry? Kill two birds with one stone as they say.

  6. Animadversor says:

    Bowick’s ruling, according to the motion, rested heavily on a translation of the decree from the Vatican, which was provided by the archdiocese’s legal team.

    Why didn’t the judge just translate it herself instead of relying on the translation of one of the parties, if that is indeed what she did?

  7. Animadversor says:

    Oh, well, now that I’ve read some reviews of the judge….

  8. Gerard Plourde says:

    @ Animadversor – The usual procedure in courts is to rely on a certified translation of the official document provided by the source (the foreign government). That may be what was provided to her. As an attorney I would object to any judge relying on his or her translation skills and supplying his or her own interpretation. As the Italian saying goes, “Traduttore, traditore.”(The translator is a traitor.)

  9. Animadversor says:

    @ Gerard Plourde
    One wonders if the translation in question was in fact one provided by the source dicastery or if it was one that the archdiocese’s legal team arranged to be made. The words above, “a translation of the decree from the Vatican, which was provided by the archdiocese’s legal team,” does not make it clear whether (a) the translation was provided by the dicastery to the archdiocese, which then provided it to the court, or (b) the archdiocese arranged for the translation and provided it to the court. I think that the language used is susceptible of both interpretations. Surely if (b), that ought to be unacceptable to the court unless all parties affected were to agree that the tranlation was accurate; and if (a), then the sisters are now in the awkward (but, I suppose, not hopeless) position of asserting that the dicastery has mistranslated its own document. In the latter case, would a third-party traitor translator, acceptable to everyone, be the answer? Thank you.

  10. Gerard Plourde says:


    You raise an important issue. If option (b) is true, counsel for the sisters should have objected vehemently and requested that an official translation from the Vatican be provided. In the case of legal documents, translation by anyone other than the issuing authority cannot be considered authoritative. If counsel for the sisters didn’t object, the judge would most likely not raise the issue sua sponte at risk of appearing to show partiality to one side (the sisters).

  11. Uxixu says:

    Of course… Rome approved the transfer of the old Cathedral, St. Vibiana’s, which is used for all sorts of profane and blasphemous things now, usually ‘just’ a secular wedding… but it makes me cringe when I see the disco ball lighting up the reredros that’s still there.

  12. Benedict Joseph says:

    J.M.C. Thank you for providing the site to find out more about the survivors of the catastrophe that fell upon this congregation in the late ’60s via “aggiornamento.” What a debacle that was, and entirely prophetic of the cataclysm that would befall so many congregations of women religious. This appears to have had a far more grace filled resolution than I could ever have hoped for. There is a lesson to be learned. Surely, the Immaculate Heart of Mary did triumph in that particular tragedy. We can trust she will again.
    However, given the current conundrum, cannot the hierarchy ever find a way to negotiate their responsibilities in a manner that allows them to look like the gang that “can” shoot straight? Greta Van Susteren just delivered the LA Archdiocese a nasty reality sandwich for millions to witness. No matter the circumstance of any given situation from NYC to LA they just don’t seem to know how to handle it. Three ring circus just doesn’t do it justice. We always appear willing and enthusiastic participants in our own deconstruction — or just plain clueless.
    But as we have witnessed, the Immaculate Heart of Mary did triumph in adverting the collapse of the IHM’s in the sixties. We can trust she will triumph over the far greater threats that are presently upon the Church today.

  13. Mojoron says:

    The nuns were on Greta this evening and to say they were pis…. is an understatement.

  14. Animadversor says:

    Well, I have now obtained copies of the relevant Rotal decree and of the competing translations thereof, neither of which seems to be an official translation from the Sacred Rota, but late-night somnolence prevents me from looking further into the matter. I have sent the reverend moderator of this site these copies, since he said he wanted to see the original Latin, and I’d be pleased to do the same for Mr. Plourde, if he has sustained any interest in the matter.

  15. Pingback: FRIDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  16. Gerard Plourde says:


    Thanks for the offer. I certainly have the interest but am sadly lacking in the translation skills, having had only one year of high school Latin almost a half-century ago. Are the competing translations online? Do they provide any information concerning the identity of the translator?

  17. Animadversor says:

    @Gerard Plourde
    The competing translations, the original document and information about the translators were all filed with the Superior Court in Los Angeles and I was able to download them from the court’s web site. I’ve left a message on your voicemail on how to contact me if you’d like to see them.

  18. KateD says:

    Are the FSSP still looking for a home in LA? Pope Francis can direct the property to be transfered to the fraternity. They can pay back the diocese in monthly payments of $500, until paid in full. The Vatican can cut a check to the nuns, and the diocese can pay the Vatican in a timely fashion…EVERYONE WINS!

    If they already have a home, then maybe the same set up could be offered to the SSPX, if the reconciliation is going well. It would make a nice welcome back into the fold gift :)

    If not these two, there are several worthy orders that would be happy to maintain this property.

    At any rate, it should not go to Katy Perry. That is conceding to the enemy and directly delivering territory into its hands. So much more good can be done for LA, the belly of the beast, by bringing in an order that will improve the spiritual health of the area, than the paltry financial advantages involved with selling it.

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