The Roman Catholic cathedral of Los Angeles on Monday rescinded its invitation to hold a Christian unity conference later this month after concluding that the principal speaker was to be a controversial self-proclaimed mystic who claimed to speak directly with God, Jesus and Mary.
In a letter to the sponsors, Msgr. Kevin Kostelnik, pastor of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, said that what had been represented by sponsors as a Christian unity conference had turned out to be largely a forum for Vassula Ryden, a Greek Orthodox laywoman who has attracted worldwide attention with her reports of sacred conversations.
At the same time, a leading Greek Orthodox priest said Monday he previously had also pulled out of the Jan. 28 conference. "Everything is very suspect. That's all I'm going to say," said the Very Rev. John Bakas, dean of St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Los Angeles.
A publicist for the conference said a second Greek Orthodox priest, from Brooklyn, had also decided not to attend.
Kostelnik said the decision to withdraw the cathedral's invitation to play host to the conference was "final and not subject to change." He said that the meeting was turning into something different than originally proposed. Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles, had earlier agreed to offer welcoming remarks at the conference but now approved the withdrawal, Kostelnik said.
Kostelnik also returned a $3,000 donation to the cathedral and a $200 deposit for food service.
His letter, faxed to event sponsors Monday, caught them and their public relations firm by surprise. Claire Mansour, one of the sponsors, said she did not know if she and her husband, Antoine Y. Mansour, a general surgeon, could find another location to hold the conference in time. A full-page advertisement had already appeared in Tidings, the official newspaper of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Press releases were also distributed, saying that Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant leaders would discuss "a new era of relations" among them.
"To me this is a betrayal by my church," she said, referring to the withdrawal of the invitation by the Roman Catholic cathedral.
The meeting was to have been under the auspices of Ryden's "True Life in God" organization and sponsored by the New Jerusalem Foundation, headed by the Mansours, who live in Beverly Hills. They have long supported Ryden and were associated with her Los Angeles appearance in 1995.
Antoine Mansour, in a handwritten Oct. 7 letter to Kostelnik, assured the pastor that Ryden's writings "have been cleared by the Vatican."
But Kostelnik wrote Monday that Mansour's assurance was "a serious misrepresentation of the current Vatican view of Ms. Ryden's speeches and writings." He said 1995 and 1996 Vatican statements cautioning Catholics against following Ryden remained "in full force."
"The 1995 statement cautioned Catholics that Ms. Ryden's 'revelations' were merely the result of private meditations and contained doctrinal errors. It also advised bishops not to provide any opportunity in their dioceses for the dissemination of her ideas," Kostelnik wrote.
"In short, it is my belief and that of Cardinal Mahony that instead of a Christian unity conference where all participants have an equal opportunity to share and speak, what is now taking its place is a Vassula Ryden conference," Kostelnik wrote.
During an appearance in Los Angeles in 1995, Ryden told an audience at the Los Angeles Convention Center that Jesus joked with her as she ate ravenously.
"Finally," she told the audience, "he asked, 'Is it good?' And I said, "Yes, Jesus. Thank you.' There was nothing wrong, so I continued eating. After a while he said, 'Don't you want me to bless it?' "
Her current website, www.tlig.org, quotes Jesus as addressing her as "My Vassula" and tells her he was giving her his lamp to remove spiritual darkness from the world.
Critics have challenged the authenticity of Vassula's supposed messages from God because she has changed some of them over time. Vassula, who was in Washington, D.C., and could not be reached for comment Monday, told The Times in a 1995 interview that God gave her permission to make such changes. She said it was possible for a perfect God to regret something he said, just as he regretted creating a race that would fall from grace.
Claire Mansour said Monday that the Los Angeles archdiocese "had all the information" about the conference for months, including Ryden's appearance.
"It was very clear. We didn't hide anything," she said, adding that she had expected a full house at the 3,000-seat cathedral.
But she said God had the "final word" on the matter.