WILKES-BARRE – The group fighting to reopen Sacred Heart of Jesus Church is awaiting a ruling on its appeal to the Vatican, which could come before the end of the month.
After years of working through the Roman Catholic Church's system, there's only one more place to go should the appeal be rejected: the pope.
Two attempts by the Sacred Heart Wilkes-Barre Foundation Inc. to introduce new evidence of its claim that the North Main Street building is structurally sound and should have remained open were rejected.
Diocese of Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera declined a proposal that the appeals be suspended until an independent structural engineer scrutinized the building, and the appellate panel in Rome – the Apostolic Signatura Collegium – declined an offer by the foundation to pay for a trip to see the church firsthand.
Noreen and Anthony Foti, the couple spearheading the effort to save the church, have long argued the church was closed under false pretenses, contending there were serious flaws in a structural analysis done for the diocese that concluded the building needs more than $3 million in repairs.
An analysis done for the foundation concluded the building could be repaired for about $500,000.
The Fotis believe an independent analysis is essential not only to determine who is right but to restore parishioner confidence in the diocese.
They argue that the doubt regarding the structural status – a key reason given for closing the church and consolidating the parish with two others to form St. Andre Bessette parish – has driven people out of the parish and out of the faith.
The fact is that this consolidated parish has not grown, Noreen Foti said. It's probably no larger than Sacred Heart was before the merger.
The Fotis cite a parish census of Sacred Heart/St. John parish in 2007 – before the diocese launched a lengthy review that led to numerous church closings – that tallied 1,090 families.
By the time the review was done and the church closed in June 2011, it was down to 600 families.
They also point to a St. Andre Bessette church bulletin in September 2010 that listed total family membership for all the consolidated parishes at 1,200.
And Noreen Foti cites figures from St. Andre Bessette bulletins that she contends show parishioners are donating less.
The fact is a substantial number from the consolidated parishes have left, Noreen Foti said.
Asked for comment, diocese spokesman Bill Genello provided this written response:
The Diocese of Scranton has consistently committed itself to following and respecting the integrity of the appeal process, and Bishop Bambera has always maintained that the Diocese would abide by the outcome of the appeal, which is currently before the Holy See. As a newly reconfigured parish, the Saint Andre Bessette Parish community continues to proudly serve the faithful of northern Wilkes-Barre and beyond.
The foundation's appeal went before the Collegium last week, though such events are closed to the public.
Our lawyer won't have any indication of the decision for a few weeks, Noreen Foti said.