Archbishop decertifies Fishtown church

A shuttered house of worship in Philadelphia's Fishtown section moved a step closer to possible demolition as Archbishop Charles J. Chaput issued an order Sunday decertifying the building as a Roman Catholic church.

The archbishop issued a decree of relegation "to profane but not sordid use" for St. Laurentius Church at Memphis and Berks Streets.

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St. Laurentius Church in Fishtown moved a step closer to possible demolition as Archbishop Charles J. Chaput issued an order Sunday decertifying the building as a Roman Catholic church.

Ken Gavin, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said the decree means that if the church is demolished or put to another use, the property could not be used for any purpose contrary to Catholic teachings. The order takes effect Wednesday.

The 129-year-old structure, which parishioners say was the first Polish Roman Catholic church in the archdiocese, was ordered closed by the archdiocese in March because of safety concerns.

John Wisniewski, a longtime member of St. Laurentius, said that a group of parishioners has hired a canon lawyer and that an appeal of the relegation was being sent to the Vatican.

While an appeal is in process, the church cannot be torn down, Gavin said.

The decree noted that the city has declared the building unsafe, and that the structure has numerous cracks in its facade and its towers are in danger of collapsing.

It said that stabilizing and repairing the structure would cost between $1.2 million and $3.4 million.

Wisniewski and other St. Laurentius parishioners have argued that an engineering study found that the cost of stabilizing and repairing the building was considerably lower.

He and others said fund-raising efforts have been underway to help meet those costs.

In the summer of 2013, the archdiocese merged St. Laurentius Parish with Holy Name of Jesus Parish about two blocks away.

Gavin said that what happens to St. Laurentius will be decided by the Rev. John Sibel, priest of Holy Name of Jesus, in consultation with his lay leadership and pastoral and finance councils.

"Certainly, looking at the estimates that are out there, demolition is the more cost-effective route," Gavin said.

In August, Wisniewski and other parishioners of St. Laurentius sent a letter to Pope Francis inviting him to consider saying Mass at the church if the pontiff comes to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families in September 2015.

A.J. Thomson, one of the parishioners, said about 300 people attended the church every Sunday before it was ordered shut.

He said that in addition to the parishioners, many people in the neighborhood have stepped forward in support of repairing and reopening the church.

"I actually believe that if Rome looks at this and follows the gospel of Jesus' teaching, the church will be fixed and the parish will thrive," Thomson said.

 


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