An Allegany County monastery won't be forced to return $1.6 million to a Texas man who accused its operators of defrauding him.
Eric E. Hoyle entered the Most Holy Family Monastery in the rural Town of Fillmore in 2005, turning over just about everything he had to the religious organization in his quest to become a Benedictine monk.
The former Maryland schoolteacher ultimately became disenchanted with the monastery, leading him to file a federal lawsuit seeking the return of the money.
But earlier this month, U.S. District Judge John T. Curtin ruled in favor of the monastery and its two primary representatives, Frederick and Robert Dimond, for the second time.
Curtin decided on Nov. 7 that he would not reconsider his earlier order that dismissed Hoyle's complaint.
The case had the potential to become a battle over religious freedom, with Hoyle alleging that the Dimonds misrepresented the origins of the monastery and the religious principles to which they adhere.
But in his two rulings, Curtin made it clear that the court would not become involved in adjudicating beliefs.
"Any examination into the genesis of (Most Holy Family Monastery) is a doctrinal determination that is prohibited by the First Amendment … and is outside the court's jurisdiction," Curtin wrote in his Nov. 7 decision.
Hoyle, who was 25 at the time, turned over just about all of his worldly possessions, including $1.6 million in savings and investments, upon entering the monastery.
But Hoyle ended up leaving after a couple years, and he claimed in a lawsuit filed in 2008 that the Dimonds lied about the monastery's origins, operations and religious principles.
Specifically, Hoyle argued that the monastery wasn't part of the ancient Catholic Order of St. Benedict and therefore he couldn't become a true Benedictine monk.
The Dimonds maintained that the courts have no say in determining who exactly is a Benedictine monk, and Curtin agreed.
"This court could properly determine whether (Most Holy Family Monastery) is affiliated with the recognized Order of St. Benedict, but it is a doctrinal issue whether (the monastery) operates according to the Rule of St. Benedict and can self-identify as a Benedictine monastery," Curtin wrote in his dismissal order.
Lawyers on both sides could not be reached to comment. Hoyle, who according to his website does tutoring in Corpus Christi, Texas, also could not be reached to comment.
In an audio recording on the monastery website, Robert Dimond, who goes by the name "Brother Peter," described the judge's dismissal as "a fantastic development and one we expected because Eric Hoyle's claims were completely false and the truth was on our side."
Dimond also said the case, which originally was filed in 2008, brought "irreparable harm" to the monastery and its worldwide reputation.
Hoyle "was on a campaign to try to destroy our apostolate," he said.
The Dimonds consider themselves truly Catholic, although they espouse many views that run counter to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
"The monastery is neither part of the diocese nor the Catholic Church," said Diocese of Buffalo spokesman Kevin A. Keenan.