Category: Archive

Back in court

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Meanwhile, the Irish Echo has learned that the New York archdiocese has renewed its demolition permit for the 160-year-old East Village structure, which overlooks Tompkins Square Park.
Parishioners and preservationists have reported increased activity at the site at the corner of Avenue B and 8th Street, which, they fear, might point to a plan to demolish sooner rather than later.
On a more hopeful note for the church’s advocates, Kresky pointed to the “very well-reasoned” dissenting opinion put by Judge Kavanagh, when the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, issued its decision two months ago.
The other four judges reaffirmed the opinion that the case is not about property rights but “whether, or to what extent the courts should intervene in the internal governance of a hierarchical church.”
The appeals process after the recent decision allowed the plaintiff (the St. Brigid’s committee) to ask the Appellate Division to reconsider its decision and also to give it leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals. Predictably the Appellate Division responded negatively on both counts.
But yesterday, the committee’s lawyers filed a motion directly with the Court of Appeals. There’s every possibility, Kresky believes, that these judges might agree that Kavanagh raised important enough issues for them to hear the case.
The dissenting judge wrote: “In this case, the alleged motive of the Cardinal and the Archdiocese for seeking to demolish St. Brigid, one of the oldest Roman Catholic churches in the City, is to develop residential apartments on the site whereby the benefits from the property would inure to the benefit of the Archdiocese even though it is undisputed that the Archdiocese does not own the property.”
Continued Kavanagh: “The church, in Manhattan’s East Village, was built by Irish shipwrights in 1848, and funded by immigrants fleeing the famines in Ireland in that century. The church and the real property on which it sits was deeded to the Corporation of the Church of St. Brigid (formerly St. Bridget) by Cardinal John McCloskey, Archbishop of New York in 1885, 16 years after the incorporation of the church.”
The issue of St. Brigid’s — said to be the oldest surviving example of the work of prolific County Tipperary-born architect Patrick C. Keely — has been in the courts for almost three years. But observers believe that the case has wandered into an area that carries serious risk for the hierarchy, in that it could have implications for every parish and even for other denominations. For that reason, they’ve said, judges have been nervous about issuing a positive decision in favor of the committee.
Critics say that the hierarchy exercises centralized control, yet benefits from laws that regards parishes as independent entities.
“They want to have it both ways,” Kresky said.
Whatever the Court of Appeals decides, the Committee to Save St. Brigid’s Church will continue its work, it chairman Ed Torres said.
“Once again we’re hoping that the cardinal will change his mind,” said Torres. “It’s sad that it would have to come to the demolition of St. Brigid’s.”
Over the past couple of years, several city politicians have expressed support for St. Brigid’s, including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Comptroller William Thompson. Celebrities, such as the actor Matt Dillon, have lent their support, while numerous Irish and Irish-American writers have also opposed the destruction of a building that predates most of the city’s landmarks.
Torres said the committee commissioned leading realtors Massey Knakal to write a report about the property.
“With air rights, they said, there’s plenty of square footage to cater for everyone’s interests,” he said.
It’s understood that the archdiocese wants to build an apartment complex as part of its St. Cabrini nursing home.
“That’s admirable,” said Torres, who was head usher before the parish was shut down in 2001. “But we’re trying to offer the cardinal a win-win situation.”
He said that the committee recognized that the church is not for sale, but if it could be spared, then supporters and preservationists could raise the money “to do the massive restoration job.”

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