Three Roman Catholic nuns who learned last summer that their Santa Barbara convent would be sold to help cover the costs of Los Angeles' multimillion-dollar abuse payout have been offered a temporary home by an order of Episcopal nuns in the same city.
The three Sisters of Bethany will move around Thanksgiving to St. Mary's Retreat House, an Episcopal center near the Santa Barbara Mission, according to the nuns' spokesman and to a relative of one of the nuns. The center is a ministry of the Sisterhood of the Holy Nativity, an order based in Wisconsin.
The offer is temporary, but open-ended.
"They've been told they are welcome to stay as long as need be," said Rosemary Escalera Gutierrez of Hacienda Heights whose sister is the Catholic nuns' local superior, Sister Angela Escalera. Gutierrez said her sister and the others were grateful for the offer and relieved to find a place to live, even on an interim basis.
Escalera, 69, and two other nuns at the Sisters of Bethany house in Santa Barbara received notice in late August that their small convent, which is owned by the Los Angeles Archdiocese, would be sold to help pay for the church's $660-million clergy abuse settlement. The women were told they had until Dec. 31 to move out.
News of the planned sale and eviction brought the nuns media attention and numerous offers of help. Recent stories of their plight have been televised by NBC and CNN. After the first flurry of publicity in September, the nuns' order, which is based in Guatemala, asked them to halt all public statements.
The nuns broke that silence recently, however, when they issued a statement disassociating themselves from Denise d'Sant Angelo, a Santa Barbara businesswoman who had led a committee formed to help them find permanent housing.
Through an attorney, the nuns also have asked D'Sant Angelo to return several thousand dollars collected on their behalf.
"They're not accusing anyone of anything, but they don't want her representing them anymore," said Ernest Salomon, a Santa Barbara real estate broker who is host of a local public affairs television program. Salomon, a former member of the nuns' now-disbanded support group, has continued to serve as their spokesman.
Mack Staton, the nuns' attorney, said Wednesday that they had decided to distance themselves from D'Sant Angelo partly because they were uncomfortable with some of her fundraising ideas. Staton said he asked D'Sant Angelo on Nov. 5 to return about $3,700 that is unaccounted for, out of about $20,000 raised. He said she has not replied.
In a brief telephone interview Wednesday, D'Sant Angelo denied she owed the nuns money. She said funding discrepancies were the result of some donors asking for refunds.
She also said that the "Save Our Sisters of Bethany" committee, which she incorporated Nov. 7 as a California nonprofit corporation, had withdrawn its support for the nuns in Santa Barbara, but would continue to function.
"This was not just designed to help the sisters in Santa Barbara," D'Sant Angelo said. "We intend to help other Sisters of Bethany."
But those close to the Santa Barbara nuns said Wednesday they were mainly focused now on their imminent move to the St. Mary's retreat house.
In contrast to their modest convent, a remodeled tract house in a mixed industrial and residential area, the Episcopal center sits on lushly landscaped grounds lined with olive trees.
"There are extensive grounds with a gate at the entrance and lots of tree-lined walkways," said Gutierrez, Sister Angela's sister. "They are looking forward to a lot of privacy and peace, and they are so grateful to the Episcopal order."
Reached by telephone at the retreat house Wednesday, Sister Abigail, the nun in charge, said she welcomed the Bethany sisters, but hoped the public -- and the media -- would respect their wish for privacy.
"I don't want a lot of people coming to this house," Sister Abigail said. "This is a place of quiet and prayer."
As to why she offered the nuns a place to stay, the nun had a ready response. "They are my sisters," she said.