Thursday, April 11, 2013

7th Circuit: Civil Courts Are Bound By Church Ruling That Defendant Is Not A Member Of A Religious Order

McCarthy v. Fuller, (7th Cir., April  10, 2013), is a complicated dispute over who is entitled to the possession of documents and artifacts of Sister Mary Ephrem who claimed to have experienced a series of apparitions of the Virgin Mary in which Mary told Sister Ephrem, "I am Our Lady of America." Sister Ephrem willed all her property to Sister Mary Joseph Therese, referred to in the litigation by her birth name, Patricia Fuller.  However, a lawyer, Kevin McCarthy and a Catholic layman, Albert H. Langsenkamp, who claims to be a Papal Knight of the Holy Sepulcher, contend they are entitled to the property and artifacts after they had a falling out with Fuller.  In this decision, an interlocutory appeal of an Indiana federal district court's order, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals held that civil courts must recognize a ruling by the Holy See that "Patricia Ann Fuller is not a member of any religious Institute, formally recognized by the Catholic Church." That status is relevant to several issues in the litigation brought by McCarthy against Fuller-- allegations by Fuller that McCarthy defamed her by calling her a "fake nun," and allegations by McCarthy that Fuller defrauded him by misrepresenting herself as being a nun and living in a convent. Writing for a unanimous 7th Circuit panel, Judge Posner said:
In [its amicus brief] the Holy See has spoken, laying to rest any previous doubts: Fuller has not been a member of any Catholic religious order for more than 30 years. Period. The district judge has no authority to question that ruling. A jury has no authority to question it. We have no authority to question it.
AP reports on the decision.