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7th Circuit: Federal courts or juries can’t decide religious questions

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Taking up three appeals stemming from a lawsuit filed surrounding control of religious documents and artifacts from the appearance of the Virgin Mary, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found that a federal judge erred in ruling that it should be up to a jury to decide whether a party to the lawsuit is still a religious sister.

Kevin B. McCarthy, et al., and Langsenkamp Family Apostolate, et al. v. Patricia Ann Fuller, et al., 12-2157, 12-2257, 12-2262, has been pending in federal court in Indianapolis for five years. The lawsuit is over who can be allowed to promote devotions to Our Lady of America and who may possess related artifacts. Sister Mary Ephrem saw the Virgin Mary appear in Rome City, Ind. in 1956 and programs of devotions to Our Lady were created. Ephrem was a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus when she and two other women broke off and created their own congregation. When Ephrem died, she left all her possessions – which were related to Our Lady – to Sister Mary Joseph Therese, born Patricia Fuller.

In 2005, attorney Kevin McCarthy and Albert H. Langsenkamp worked out an agreement to help Fuller with the devotions to Our Lady. But they had a falling out in 2007, leading to this suit over who should own the possessions and promote Our Lady. The main issue the 7th Circuit looked at was the claim McCarthy made that Fuller is a “fake nun,” which led to Fuller’s defamation counterclaim. McCarthy obtained a statement from the Apostolic Nunicature of the Holy See that Fuller is no longer a nun or religious sister and hasn’t been since 1983.

Judge William Lawrence decided that this issue should go before a jury. The 7th Circuit obtained a 51-page amicus brief from the Holy See on whether Fuller is still a member of a religious order. The Holy See said she is not since she left and joined the new congregation.

“In it 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,” Judge Richard Posner wrote.

The 7th Circuit dismissed the other two appeals before it for either being premature or not final rulings.

 

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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