Nuns evicted to pay for pedophile victims compensation

In Southern California, where the Roman Catholic Church has agreed to pay victims of pedophile priests $660 million, the archdiocese is ordering nuns out of convents so the buildings can be sold to fund the out-of-court settlement.

Here in Santa Barbara, the sins of the fathers are being visited on the Sisters of Bethany. The three nuns living in a modest building on Nopal Street received an eviction notice last month ordering them to be out by December 31. Earlier "would be acceptable as well," the letter said.

The Washington Post reported that among those being forced to move is Sister Angela Escalera, 69, who, diabetic and able to get around only with a walker, had hoped to live out her days in the Santa Barbara convent.

"This is how the archdiocese is going about getting the money to pay off the victims," said her younger sister, Rosemary Escalera Gutierrez, 64, a former nun in the order.

The public storm over the evictions has prolonged an excruciating controversy that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles had hoped to begin putting behind it in July when it agreed to payouts to 508 accusers of 221 priests and other male church employees.

Instead, the new flap has raised the question of how much the church has learned about the crucial business of public perception.

Gutierrez quoted her sister because church officials slapped a gag order on the nuns.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles did not reply to telephone and e-mail messages for this report. A statement posted on its Web site detailed the effort to inform the nuns of their fate and expressed gratitude to the order for its service.

But from Santa Barbara pulpits, a number of priests defended the church. At Holy Cross Parish on Cliff Drive, the Rev. Ludo DeClippel lamented that "these kinds of conflicts within our Church are immediately thrown into the public arena, creating, once more, an hostile public opinion."

Four other convents were also being shuttered to produce cash for the abuse settlement and that the nuns being evicted "accepted it without protest or public outcry."

By local standards the convent property promises no economic windfall. Oprah Winfrey paid $50 million for an estate in neighboring Montecito. But in the heavily Hispanic, relatively poor section of Santa Barbara that the sisters have served since 1952, comparable two-bedroom homes go for around $700,000.

Nuns' Evictions Pose Perception Problem for Catholic Church, The Washington Post 4/1/07

5 Oct 2007