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Vatican stops US diocese from closing landmark church
Parishioners' direct appeal to Rome pays off
- Peter Jesserer Smith for National Catholic Register
- United States
- February 21, 2014
A long-shot appeal to the Vatican has given a small band of parishioners in Buffalo, N.Y., a chance to save their church as a worship site, after it had been closed by the local diocese.
The Jan. 7 decree handed down from the Congregation of Clergy states that St. Ann’s Church and Shrine, located on Broadway Avenue in Buffalo, cannot be sold or repurposed for profane use. The Buffalo Diocese had closed St. Ann’s as part of a parish consolidation process and was seeking to sell the church, convent and school complex to a private developer for secular uses, after judging that an estimated $8 million-12 million price tag to repair and restore it was something the diocese could not afford.
“We’re elated. We felt like we were on Cloud 9 when the decision came in,” said Carol Robinson, co-chair of the Save St. Ann’s group that has been fighting to keep the church present in Buffalo’s inner-city as an active Catholic parish.
St. Ann’s Church and Shrine, a beautiful neo-Gothic structure located in the heart of the city, has been the center of a contentious and emotional battle between its loyal band of parishioners and a financially stressed diocese.
The church has also become a rallying point for the city itself. The Buffalo Common Council, community leaders and public figures declared their support for St. Ann’s after the diocese announced last fall that, without a buyer for the property, the wrecking ball was the only future for St. Ann’s.
“St. Ann’s is an important part of our community. The church’s story has helped shape the stories of many families in the city of Buffalo,” said state Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, who has been one of the local public figures who have called on Buffalo to support efforts to save the church.
“With the decision from the Vatican, St. Ann’s will remain standing, and, now, we must keep working hard to ensure St. Ann’s remains standing as a beacon of hope for the city of Buffalo.”
The canonical decision in favor of the parishioners against the diocese, however, cuts off a major avenue to save the church edifice.
“What this [decree] means is that the diocese is prohibited from selling the property to a developer who may repurpose the property,” said Kevin Keenan, spokesman for Bishop Richard Malone.
The diocese had been working with the organization Preservation Buffalo-Niagara (PBN) to find potential developers to take over the St. Ann’s complex. The effort would save the church but put it to uses other than a worship site.
Now, those efforts to sell the church have hit a dead-end with the Vatican decree, unless it is overturned on appeal.
Bishop Malone has written the Congregation for the Clergy and asked them to reconsider their decision.
If the decision stands, Keenan told the Register that Bishop Malone intends to appeal the case to the Apostolic Signatura, the highest court of appeal in the Church other than the pope himself. The Vatican court is currently presided over by U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke.
Source: National Catholic Register