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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. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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