A Shelby County circuit judge sent a wealthy California man who claims to be dedicated cult fighter to jail Wednesday for his derogatory statements about a Birmingham-area religious group.
Circuit Judge J. Michael Joiner sentenced Phillip J. Kronzer to spend 15 hours in jail for contempt of court. Joiner found that statements Kronzer made about Caritas of Birmingham in a widely distributed letter violated terms of a confidential settlement in a lawsuit involving Kronzer and Caritas.
Kronzer is a San Jose, Calif., businessman who declared war on cults when his wife left him to join what he claimed was a cult. He repeatedly has claimed that Caritas is a cult.
The Caritas Community is a residential religious group near Sterrett that periodically hosts Marija Lunetti, a woman from Medjugorje, Bosnia, who has claimed to have received daily messages from the Virgin Mary since 1981. Lunetti’s appearances customarily draw large crowds.
Caritas of Birmingham, the Community of Caritas and Caritas’ leader, Terry Colafrancesco, sued Kronzer, his Phillip J. Kronzer Foundation and Donn Waters, a foundation officer, last year for violating the April 2005 settlement.
The case was kept under seal until Wednesday, when Joiner granted a request from The Birmingham News to unseal most of it.
Still under seal are the exact terms of the settlement. The portion Kronzer admitted violating forbids him to make disparaging remarks about Caritas, Colafrancesco and lawyers and agents of Caritas.
Caritas lawyer Dan Burnick on Wednesday questioned Kronzer in a nonjury trial on the contempt issue. Kronzer admitted to posting derogatory information on his Web site and writing letters and documents under false names that said Caritas was under investigation by the Vatican, Congress and the IRS.
Kronzer said he broke the agreement to protect himself against death threats and “spending the rest of my life in prison for something I didn’t do.” He did not explain how the Internet publication would accomplish that.
Joiner said Burnick showed “nine separate contemptuous events,” but he reserved judgment on all but one. That was a June letter that went out after Kronzer had been placed under a temporary restraining order for the earlier mailings and after arbitrator Charles Denaburg had ordered Kronzer and his foundation to pay $225,000 to Colafrancesco, Burnick and the Sirote & Permutt law firm for breaching the settlement agreement.
Joiner sentenced Kronzer to five days in jail but suspended all but 15 hours, ordering that he be released by 6 a.m. today.
The case will resume in about three months, Joiner said. Meanwhile, Kronzer was ordered to pay the arbitration award by Tuesday morning or post a bond exceeding that amount. “We just want to be left alone,” Burnick said on behalf of Caritas. “We want to share the messages of the apparitions, and they are good messages of peace, love and respect. We don’t hurt people.”