Supporters of Cathedral High School, angry over the refusal of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles reconsider its plans to sell the inner-city boys’ school to a developer, filed a lawsuit in Superior Court on Tuesday in an attempt to stop the transaction.
“We have filed this suit because we believe in our hearts that the sale of Cathedral High School is unlawful, unethical and contrary to the educational interest of the youth of the inner city,” said Mike Cimino, a spokesman for Friends of Cathedral Inc., a group of alumni and parents who filed the suit.
He said the suit was filed only after months of sporadic talks with the archdiocese had broken down. “Nobody takes any delight in filing this lawsuit,” he added at a press conference held Tuesday morning to announce the filing.
No Archdiocese Comment
Msgr. Clement J. Connolly, secretary to Cardinal Timothy Manning, said the archdiocese would have no comment on the lawsuit until attorneys had reviewed the documents.
When asked if there were any room for reconsideration of the decision to sell the school, Connolly said, “The archdiocese has made a decision about Cathedral, and I think there isn’t any (room for reconsideration.)”
Connolly said that no freshman class is being admitted for the fall and that the school will be closed in June, 1987, when current sophomores graduate. The archdiocese has said that Cathedral is being sold to consolidate the student bodies of three Central Los Angeles Catholic high schools in the face of dwindling enrollment.
The school has been operated by the Christian Brothers for 60 years on property owned by the archdiocese. The property was placed in escrow in 1983 for sale to a Hong Kong developer for an estimated $11.5 million. Details are vague because the archdiocese and the buyer have declined to reveal the exact price or conditions of sale.
The lawsuit alleges that the archdiocese does not have a legal right to sell the property because it never received clear title to the land in the first place. Instead, it claims, the land is owned by the City of Los Angeles.
The argument rests largely on historical land records dealing with the use of the property as the Old Cavalry Cemetery in the 19th Century.
Records submitted with the lawsuit show that part of the 6.5-acre parcel where the school is located was turned over to the archdiocese by Mexico in 1844 for use as a cemetery during the period that California was still ruled by Mexico. The remaining land was turned over to the archdiocese by the City of Los Angeles in the 1850s and 1860s.
The city ordered the cemetery closed in 1910 and passed a law in June, 1925, requiring the removal of bodies for health reasons. Three months later, the archdiocese established Cathedral High School on the site. In 1927, at the request of the archdiocese, the City Council issued a quit claim deed turning the property over to the church.
According to the lawsuit, that quit claim deed “amounted to an unlawful gift of public property and an unconstitutional grant of an interest in property by a city to a religious entity for a sectarian purpose.” Had the City Council known that the archdiocese would ever sell the property, it added, it would not have agreed to sign away its interest in the land.
Consequently, the lawsuit concludes, the quit claim deed is null and void and “the property belongs to the City of Los Angeles.”
The suit names as co-defendants the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles City Council and State Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp--all parties it claims have failed to preserve the public’s interest in the property.
Members of the Friends of Cathedral said after the press conference Tuesday, however, that they have asked the city to join them in the lawsuit against the archdiocese. The City Council has repeatedly voted to support the alumni in their battle to keep the school open by designating it a cultural monument and declaring a temporary building moratorium on the site during the dispute.
Request to Join
Assistant City Atty. Norman L. Roberts confirmed he has received a request from attorneys for the Friends of Cathedral asking that the city join the suit. He said he plans to submit a report to the City Council on the issue in 30 days. He declined comment on the issues raised in the lawsuit.
The Friends of Cathedral are represented by Mary D. Nichols, former chairman of the state Air Resources Board, and Michael Feuer, both Los Angeles attorneys.
The lawsuit asks that the court issue a finding that the City of Los Angeles owns the land and that the Education and Welfare Corp. of the archdiocese, which holds the deed to the property, is a nonprofit corporation that cannot legally sell the school for profit. It also asks for a permanent injunction prohibiting the sale.
The lawsuit is the most recent of several tactics used by the highly active alumni group to dissuade the archdiocese from closing the school, which has educated generations of immigrant children who have become professionals, businessmen and civil servants. Most of the school’s 500 students are Latino.
“They did a great job of educating us,” said one prominent member of the group who asked that his name not be used. “That’s why we’re pushing so hard. We want to pay the school back for what it did for us.”