The Associated Press reported last week that the Sister’s of Bethany covent, in Santa Barbara, will be sold to “help pay the bill for the church’s recent multimillion-dollar priest sex abuse settlement. The nuns have until Dec. 31 to move out.”
The archdiocese announced a record $660-million settlement with clergy abuse victims earlier in the summer. Of that, as much as $373 million will be paid by the archdiocese, with the rest coming from insurers and various religious orders.
To help cover the bill the archdiocese has said it will sell up to 50 non-parish properties including its administrative headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. The convent is the first property outside of those central offices to be identified as among those to be sold.
Sister Angela Escalera has lived and worked out of the Sisters of Bethany convent for more than four decades, helping the area’s poor and undocumented residents.
At 69, she expected to live out the rest of retirement at the convent. Instead, she and the other two nuns who live there will need to find a new place to call home.
“We’re just so hurt by this,” Escalera, the order’s local superior said. “And what hurts the most is what the money will be used for, to help pay for the pedophile priests. We have to sacrifice our home for that?”
The decision to sell the convent was difficult but necessary, said Tod M. Tamberg, spokesman for the archdiocese.
“The pain is being spread around,” Tamberg said. “We’re losing our headquarters here, and none of the employees got a pay raise this year. This is just part of making it right with the victims, and we all have to share in the process even though none of us — the nuns, myself — harmed anybody. All of us as a church have to pay for the sins of a few people.”
The news stunned and outraged some residents in the community who have been helped by the veiled nuns in navy blue habits.
“Why should (the nuns) pay for the sins of the morons who did this?” said Sally Sanchez, a community activist. “Why can’t they sell something else?”
The convent, which sits on a quarter of an acre, looks like an ordinary house from the outside. The Santa Barbara County assessor’s office lists the property’s value at $97,746, though it will likely sell for more. Smaller, older homes near the convent start at about $700,000, according to the Zillow real estate appraisal website.
Escalera said she was still dealing with the pain, anger and resignation of receiving a letter instead of direct contact.
“We’re not even worth a phone call,” she said. “That’s one of the things that hurts so much.”