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Past the Clickbait: Why The Katy Perry & The Los Angeles Convent Dispute is Important

Katy Perry is not the anti-Christ. Granted, she does make some controversial headlines (e.g.: her inappropriate behavior with male contestants, cultural appropriation), but the current lawsuit against the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary has reunited Katy Perry with the religious background that was a large part of her musical career. 

Katy Perry fixated on buying the Los Feliz Convent, priced at $14.5 million dollars, in hopes of “[sitting] in the meditation garden, [sipping] green tea, and [finding] herself,” but the Sister of the church disagreed with Katy Perry’s personal lifestyle and reputation. While Katy Perry opted for a more conservative look and even broadcasted her “Jesus” tattoo to the sisters, they found her problematic past would interfere with her purchase of the convent. 

Located in the heart of the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, the property has been owned by the Sisters for over 40 years, although they have not actively lived on the property for several years. And the case of the nuns versus Katy Perry has also been ongoing for years, though it has only recently made the click-bait headlines claiming the sensational news that Perry had “killed a nun.” 

First off, no she didn’t.

During a court hearing, Sister Catherine Rose Holzman, who adamantly opposed Perry’s purchasing, openly stated “Katy Perry, please stop. It’s not doing anyone any good except hurting a lot of people.” After which she collapsed and, unfortunately, died. Like so many things in today’s celebrity-obsessed culture,  Sister Catherine’s untimely and tragic death became the center of quick news information and facts on websites and even warranted a page on Daily Mail’s Snapchat Story. Everyone in the world wanted people to know that Katy Perry had killed a nun, branding her as the Antichrist and a sacrilegious figure. Perry, who has limited her conversation and commentary on the incident, has persisted in her efforts to buy the property. However, it seems that Katy Perry and her legal team are unable to escape the damage of the recent developments in the case. Despite what the popular media may believe, Katy Perry isn’t the “villain” in this story. The sacrilegious component of the lawsuit is the sexism and power struggle the Sisters have encountered with the purchase. 

The legal battle is not about Katy Perry vs. The Nuns (which becomes more ridiculous every time it’s written). It’s really about who owns the property and who has the right to sell it. The Archdiocese, the district for where an archbishop is responsible, wanted to sell to the property to Perry for $14.5 million, while the Sisters had planned on selling the property for $15.5 million to local businesswoman Dana Hollister.

The conflict has always been about who owns the property. The Sisters have had a long-standing conflict with the Archbishop Jose Gomez, causing 90% of the sister of leave after a conflict with then Archdiocese James McIntyre in 1970. Forty years later, Gomez sued the Sister to stop them from selling to Dana Holliser, so the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary plead for a temporary restraining order against Archbishop Gomez as a result of his filing a lawsuit against the nuns themselves to stop the sale to Hollister. The conflict arose from who owns the property. The Archbishop argues that the property is legally his to sell and he asked the sisters to present a proposal for their argument (following the traditional religious law of Archbishops being responsible for a certain neighborhood which is named an “Archidiocese”), yet he refused to meet with the Sisters to approve the sale. 

The lawsuit provides a modern-day example of the power struggle of women in religious settings. Many critics of the case have pointed out that especially for women in similar positions as the Sisters, the sale of their properties helps fund and secure their retirement plans. As the number of nuns and similar positions rapidly decrease, it puts the Sisters in a conflicting position within society and their individual communities. While the office of the Archdiocese publicly announced the money gained in the sale of the property will be owed to the Sister. However, there is still a large amount of skepticism, raising the question of why the Sisters themselves are not allowed to sell the property (which they pooled their money together and bought at a discount) in order to cover their future living expenses. 

Returning to the point of Katy Perry’s position in the deal, the Sisters are not only opposing the purchase because they do not agree with her personal life, but because they believe the deal made with Hollister would be more financially beneficial to them. The Sisters believe that it is their property to sell, as Sister Rita Callanan told Daily Mail, “all we are asking is to sell our own property, keep our own money so we can take care of ourselves until the last person dies, then the money and property can go to the archbishop.” 

While the story has been construed as a ‘pop singer vs. The Nuns’ narrative to fit a more relevant pop culture story, what people are ignoring here is the mistreatment of the nuns and how they are essentially being exploited by celebrity-driven news media outlets. This is not the first instance of inequality and controversy in power relations in property management in religious contexts. Callanan claims that the Sisters simply “don’t want the archbishop handling [their] money.” Regardless of the Sisters’ vocal dissatisfaction, a jury awarded $15 million to Perry and the Archdiocese which ruled that the nuns would have no authority to sell the property to Hollister.

While the controversy and case have been going on since 2015, Perry still needs final approval from the Vatican to officially and legally own the property, meaning that there is some hope that the nuns will have justice. The mistreatment of females and nuns has been a large debate in the Catholic Church, causing 72% of nuns to leave the church over the past five decades (albeit for varying reasons). While the debate on who should own the property in the future stands, many people believe that the nuns should be the final say in the selling of the property since they were the ones to originally own it. 

It only seems fair that a group of women who have devoted their lives to serving others should have a chance at determining their own retirements. It seems like despite of all the recent social movements and call outs of inequality in the workplace, the pattern of disrespect and marginalization that women face both in religious and non-religious contexts is still a problematic component of our society today. These type of problems– whether they occur in Hollywood with celebrities facing sexual assault and harassment, or to the polar opposite position of Nuns fighting for equal power control—show how, yes, we’ve made some movement in the right direction, but it’s 2018 and men are not hesitating to trample over nuns. This legal battle should not pit female against female, like many media outlets have done (and have an unfortunate history of), but should shed light on the reality of the situation and what it does to these women and their lives. Of course, it will take a long time to battle systematic institutions of the patriarchy. But until we stop scapegoating people like Katy Perry to blame the death of nuns on, and until we start observing and analyzing the truth behind the misogynistic undertones of a historically patriarchal society, we’ll keep on saying (Insert Pop Media Start) is to blame for (Said Action) to (Any Other Female). 

 

Yasi Mousavi

New School '21

Yasi Mousavi is a second year at The New School. Originally from Nashville, TN--Yasi is planning on pursuing a double major in philosophy and screen studies. When she is not writing, she enjoys aggressively binge-watching T.V. shows and trying her best to become Mindy Kaling.
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