(RNS) Court Rules Against Diocese

A federal judge ruled that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield must bow to the altar of historic preservation in a dispute over who controls the fate of shuttered church buildings.

The diocese sued the city in federal court after the city council voted to designate the shuttered Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church a historic district, presumably to stymie demolition and maintain a certain amount of control over future plans.

Diocesan officials accused the city of “religious gerrymandering,” and said the vote interfered with their constitutional rights by standing in the way of preservation of sacred symbols in and around the building.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Law & Legal Issues, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

9 comments on “(RNS) Court Rules Against Diocese

  1. A Senior Priest says:

    Good. Church buildings belong the the communities in which the people who worshiped in them them live. Let’s get rid of this quasi-imperial ecclesiastical nonsense of bishops and denominations having anything more that spiritual authority. I’m serious. Imagine what a wonderful church world we would have if the so-called hierarchy actually felt it needed to be RESPONSIVE to its members’ wishes for the sake of its immediate survival, instead of what we have now, which is a bunch of perfectly ordinary people pretending to simultaneously be princes and prophets.

  2. Ad Orientem says:

    Re # 1
    What a marvelously Protestant world we would all live in. I am not Catholic (anymore). But to them the Pope is the personal representative of God. I may not agree with their beliefs, but its not my right to tell them they have to conform their belief system to a Protestant approach.

  3. NoVA Scout says:

    I find this ruling disturbing for reasons somewhat related to those expressed in No.2., but without the theological overtones If the city wished to purchase the structure from the Church in order to preserve ambience or historic authenticity, and was willing to pay a fair price, that might be a different or acceptable circumstance. But why should Diocesan officials not have the right to dispose of the building as they see fit? It appears that the city fathers used the “historic” designation to stymie the church. I can imagine that they were far more attuned to the local parishioners than they were to a more distant church hierarchy, but it’s not for them to insert themselves into the governance structure of that particular church.

  4. TomRightmyer says:

    Another unfunded mandate. Remember the South Carolina beach case where state action destroyed the value of a ocean front lot?

  5. Sarah says:

    Depressingly, I agree with NoVA Scout — the name of the diocese is *on the deed* of parish buildings in the RC church. Dioceses actually legally own the buildings [unlike TECusa], pay the insurance, get sued, and go into bankruptcy when their clergy screw up because they are actually a heirarchical denomination with full and legal ownership of the property.

    The city has no right to take away an entity’s property whose name is actually on the deed without remuneration.

  6. Dan Crawford says:

    In every instance where the city, state, federal government declare property “historical”, the governments need to be compelled to pay fair market value + all court costs to the owners of the property. What unfortunately happens all too often is that a small group (usually wealthy social and corporate types) get it into their heads to declare property historical hoping they can ultimately use the property to further their own interests. The practice ought to stop.

  7. Drew Na says:

    In Chicago, the courts ruled that a closed church building is no longer functioning as a religious building and so therefore no longer merits the special protection of the separation of church and state. The archdiocese was forced not to destroy the building (St Gelasius), which a few years latter found new life with a young religious order. The neighborhood is rebounding, and the parish is growing. Sometimes the challenge to think creatively about re-engaging church resources can seem providential.

  8. graydon says:

    I’m wondering what the implications of the tax-exempt status might have. Since property taxes are not paid, does this in anyway infer the building is there for the betterment of the community, etc? Just wondering …..

  9. A Senior Priest says:

    Special protection in cases of historic buildings is entirely legal and reasonable. If they want to sell it to put a bicycle shop in it, that’s fine, so long as the new business doesn’t change the facade.