WILKES-BARRE – The Supreme Court of the Vatican got it wrong, according to the people fighting to preserve Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Wilkes-Barre.
Noreen and Anthony Foti, who have spearheaded efforts to reverse the closing of the church in June 2011, got unofficial notice earlier this month that their latest appeal on behalf of a group of parishioners had been denied by the Collegium of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome.
They withheld comment until receiving the official English translation of the ruling. The Collegium was the penultimate step in a long climb up the church's appellate hierarchy. The last chance is a direct appeal to the pope.
With the six-page ruling in hand, the couple issued a press release this week contending the Collegium ignored vital facts and used outdated and inaccurate information in rejecting the appeal.
Their key points:
• The Collegium relied on a 2002 structural assessment of the building that the Fotis feel was proven inaccurate by a 2011 assessment done for their group.
• The Collegium relied on a 2007 estimate for costs of repairs totaling $3.4 million, but $1.75 million of that was for work that depended on a closer structural analysis that was never done.
• The Collegium ignored a commitment by the Sacred Heart Wilkes-Barre Foundation Inc. to fund repairs of the church, deciding instead that the new parish of St. Andre Bessette – formed through the closing of Sacred Heart and another church – could not afford to maintain the Sacred Heart Church.
The press release argues that the Collegium did not order the church remain closed, but rather supported the bishop's decision to close it, leaving the ultimate fate of the building in Diocese of Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera's hands.
The disenfranchised parishioners of the former Sacred Heart/St. John Parish are willing to return and support the St. Andre Bessette Parish, the press release notes, if Bishop Bambera would simply re-open the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church for regular Catholic worship and conduct a new, fair, unbiased technical evaluation of the churches in the parish by an independent licensed professional structural engineer.
Bambera, who, as bishop, has final control of the building, has repeatedly said he will abide by the outcome of the appeal process.