The French government has already been backing local efforts to preserve another church in Manhattan, Saint Vincent De Paul, which has strong historical ties to the city’s French community.
A group of leading French community representatives, with the support of the French Consul General in New York, last week submitted an amicus brief with the court that is considering the fate of St. Brigid’s, slated by the Archdiocese of New York for closure.
The next court hearing in the St. Brigid’s case has been set for June 8. A previous court hearing resulted in a decision against the committee and a green light for demolition.
“The churches that have been earmarked for closure all know each other,” said Scott Gastel, a spokesman for the committee that is campaigning to save St. Brigid’s, which overlooks Tompkins Square Park.
Gastel said that the St. Brigid’s committee welcomed French support and would welcome the support of any foreign government in its campaign to save the 160-year-old East Village church.
The signatories to the amicus brief include Francoise Cestac, president of the Francophone Cultural Association of the United Nations, Professor Clement and Fr. William Casey, superior general of the Fathers of Mercy.
It is understood that the brief is supported by French Consul General in New York, Francois Dellatre, though his name is absent from the document formally submitted to the court.
The brief makes two key points: That the Roman Catholic Church’s status as a hierarchical church does not absolve it of its obligation to comply with the letter and spirit of relevant laws in temporal matters.
That by limiting its inquiry solely to the hierarchical nature of the church and failing to take into account also the nature of the dispute, the lower court’s analysis is flawed and its determination erroneous.
In an explanatory statement the brief states that it does not wish to belabor and repeat what has already been “expertly argued” by the supporters of St. Brigid’s, but to add the voices of the signatories – the amici curiae, or friends of the court – in support of their position.
“These parishes of the Archdiocese of New York are not so many fingers of one hand, interchangeable, fungible and easily pigeon-holed. They each have very unique histories and meanings and thus absolutely rely, in temporal and property matters, on their individual corporations to act on their behalf and in their interest as required by the plain language of the law,” the explanatory statement argues.
Like St. Brigid’s, Saint Vincent de Paul, on West 24th Street, is slated for closure by the archdiocese. Founded in 1841 by the Peres de la Misericorde (Fathers of Mercy), it has been in continual operation as a French church since then and is the only specifically French parish in the U.S.
Demolition work on St. Brigid’s began last August with the smashing of stain glass windows and the punching on a large hole through the building’s rear wall. The demolition was halted when preservationists secured a court injunction. That injunction has since been lifted, but there has been to date no resumption of demolition work.