Diocese denies St. Anthony appeal
A group of parishioners of the now-shuttered St. Anthony Church in Monongahela were not surprised when the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese denied their appeal to keep the church open.
A certified letter received by parishioners Tuesday stated, “... your appeal requesting a revocation or emendation of the decree of March 22, 2014, is denied. Any request for suspensive relief contained in your action of appeal is also denied.”
The letter was dated April 25 and signed by the Rev. Lawrence A. DiNardo of the diocese's Department for Canon and Civil Law Services.
Parishioner Laura Magone said she and others had anticipated the decision would not be overturned.
Magone said plans are in place for her organization — the Society for the Preservation of St. Anthony's Church – to hire a canon lawyer to argue their case at the Vatican.
“We did not expect the bishop to overturn his own decision,” Magone said with a laugh.
“We are full speed ahead, working on our appeal to the next level and getting our legal counsel in place.”
On March 22, Bishop David Zubik announced the diocese would close St. Anthony and directed its parishioners to attend Mass at the former Transfiguration Church nearby. The two churches were merged to form St. Damien of Molokai parish in 2011, although Masses were still celebrated at St. Anthony on Saturdays.
The letter stated that a Priest Council on March 6 unanimously recommended that St. Anthony be permanently closed. The final Mass took place 4 p.m. Saturday with the Rev. William Terza, church pastor, officiating.
Longtime parishioner Joe Ravasio said Tuesday that the fight to save his beloved church is not over.
“Our mindset was we already knew the appeal wouldn't go through, and we plan on being in this for the long haul,” Ravasio said. “The whole point of emphasis is the church should have never been closed because it's viable, it's self-sustaining and it would have never had a financial problem if the Bishop hadn't decided to close it.”
The Rev. Ron Lengwin, diocese spokesman, said the group of parishioners has every right to appeal the bishop's decision, adding it would likely be upheld because the process strictly followed canon law.
“You have a right to appeal to the highest level, and that is their next and only step,” Lengwin said Thursday. “The Vatican simply looks at whether or not you've done everything according to canon law. If you've done everything according to procedure, then they're going to uphold the bishop's decision.”
Magone said that while her group organizes its final appeal to Rome, charitable acts will continue.
“Filing the appeal is part of the process and the other is keeping the faith community together,” Magone said. “There's a group of people who feel the bishop and the priest have betrayed them, so we're going to be looking for community outreach to the needy and others to keep us together.”
Magone on Tuesday distanced herself from quotes attributed to her in an email sent to media outlets 12:05 p.m. Sunday by advisor Brody Hale — not long after Magone and two other parishioners emerged from the church after an overnight sit-in inside the shuttered building.
The email referred to “Nazi and communist tactics of Bishop David A. Zubik and Father William Terza.”
Hale, an unpaid advisor and Boston College law student, had sent similar emails on various occasions to media outlets on behalf of the St. Anthony group.
When asked whether she had made the comments or, if not, where Hale got them, Magone refused to answer and referred to a statement emailed to The Valley Independent Tuesday afternoon.
In her statement, Magone wrote: “I regret that comments I did not make were emailed to The Valley Independent by an advisor without my knowledge or consent. The email message came from another address and contained statements I did not make nor would I ever make.
“While I strongly disagree with Bishop Zubik's decision to close St. Anthony church, I respect Bishop Zubik and I respect his position. ... I would never make a comparison of our treatment to that of any negative political ideology. The comments were quite offensive to me.”
During a conference call Tuesday night with a reporter from The Valley Independent, Hale and attorney Vic Anop — both volunteer advisors in Massachusetts for groups opposed to church closings — said contents of the release came from Magone, who was reiterating the feelings of other parishioners.
Anop said he dictated the release back to Magone late Sunday morning via phone, but there had been several communication issues, including dropped calls.
Anop said he thought final approval occurred as Magone rushed to leave the church around 11:45 a.m.
According to the two advisors, Anop read the statement back to Magone, who handwrote the contents onto a piece of paper.
“I dictated it to her and she said, ‘OK' and then she moved on, because she had about two or three minutes to get out of the church,” Anop said. “There was no indication she disapproved of the statement.
“If Laura said she didn't say that, that's fine. We don't create things for people. ... In trying to prepare this release, we went back over what she had said and we went back and forth with some of the verbiage.
“I think Laura basically put herself to the forefront. And in the heat of the moment, she didn't have the ability to put out a statement herself.”
Hale said he understood that Magone was sleep deprived and under pressure from security guards hired by the diocese that he claimed were forcing the final occupants to leave.
“We thought we had her OK,” Hale said. “There was no intentional motivation to misrepresent what she said. I'm sorry it's transpired. We went off the OK we got, and if the OK didn't actually mean ‘OK,' I apologize.”
Anop added that Magone was relaying statements made by other parishioners inside the church over the course of the Sunday morning occupation.
“She may have been reflecting the comments that were being said around her, the general consensus of the group,” Anop said. “If those were observations and repeating what other people had said and not her own remarks, that's unfortunate.
“If we attributed collective comments solely to her, that is regrettable.”
Both agreed they released the email under the assumption Magone would read the same statement to a smattering of media waiting outside the church when she exited.
“We thought those were the comments she was going to deliver to the media gathered outside, and under that assumption, released the email because there had been such a small amount,” Anop said of media members.
“We were under the impression she was going to deliver those comments outside the church, but what she finally said was not the same thing.”
A story in The Valley Independent on Monday incorrectly stated that Ravasio “made similar assertions” during a candlelight vigil Sunday evening outside the church.
A review of an audio recording from that vigil determined Ravasio had no part in another parishioner's comments that stated Terza should be in the Gestapo.
“I know what I said and that has always been tremendously important to me. More damage is done with the evilness of the tongue than any bazooka or weapon could ever cause,” Ravasio said.
“For 38 years of teaching and coaching, I have repeatedly said we have to speak with reverence and dignity, no matter how upset we are. God does not like a vengeful heart or a heart of anger. Everybody's just got to keep their faith, and you don't win any battles with negativity.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.