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Police investigate sale of convent, purchase of palace

Published Oct. 16, 2005

Eight nuns moved to a castle in southern France after their convent was sold for $1.4-million, a court official said Wednesday. Roman Catholic Church officials said the sale occurred without the bishop of Bruges' permission.

Police also were investigating the religious order's purchase of racehorses and other property, the official said.

The bishop has excommunicated the convent's mother superior and the youngest of the eight nuns for failing to submit the convent's books for examination to the diocese and for refusing to let a church official enter the convent.

Investigators have arrested the convent's financial director, Ronny Crab, 35, and charged him with swindling, abuse of trust, extortion and forgery.

Police have uncovered unusual practices for a religious order, including the purchases of a farmhouse, racehorses, the dilapidated castle in Tarbes, France, where they are living, and a $110,000 Mercedes-Benz equipped with a bar, the court official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said investigators had traveled to Tarbes, near Lourdes, to determine if the Poor Sisters of Clare agreed to the $1.4-million sale of the convent to a building corporation.