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Archdiocese continues efforts to sell former church properties

Last Updated: Nov. 1, 2002

Although parishioner appeals are pending at the Vatican, the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese is moving ahead with efforts to sell the buildings and land from the former St. Joseph's Parish in Cudahy and the former St. Casimir's Parish in Kenosha.

Bay View Assembly of God reportedly has made an offer to purchase the Cudahy property for an undisclosed amount that is acceptable to the archdiocese, according to several sources familiar with the negotiations.

Without identifying the potential buyer, Wayne Schneider, head of finance/administration for the archdiocese, said the sale is progressing.

Meanwhile, the Kenosha property still is listed among archdiocesan properties that are for sale.

Moving ahead with sales was based partly on the opinion of archdiocesan canon attorneys that the appeals, in effect, deal with how the parishes were incorporated and dissolved under church law rather than the property those parishes owned.

"The property is a separate issue from the parish," said Barbara Anne Cusack, archdiocesan chancellor. "A parish is a community of Christian faithful, and it's that community that was merged with other communities. The issue of property is completely separate from the issue of a community.

"Archbishop Dolan has already publicly stated that he has no intention to revisit these decisions, that he concurs that the proper decisions were made, and that he stands by them," she said of Archbishop Timothy Dolan. "And that will be something that I'm sure the Vatican will take into consideration as we bring these cases to conclusion."

Alan Kershaw, a canon lawyer in Rome who handled the challenges until they reached the highest Vatican court, disagreed.

"That's a self-serving, inexact interpretation of canon law," Kershaw said. "The definition she gives of a parish is true, but there is another factor she omits, that a parish has territorial boundaries, and as such it has temporal property."

Nevertheless, Kershaw acknowledged that the chances the appeals will succeed are not great.

"It would be unusual for the plenary session to overturn the decision," he said of the Vatican court. "That doesn't mean that the decision would be just if they didn't overturn it, but that's beside the point."

The parishes were dissolved about two years ago, as dozens of parishes were merged or closed because of demographic changes and a priest shortage, including some parishes that had smaller-than-average congregations but still were financially viable.

Parallel challenges from some parishioners from St. Joseph's and St. Casimir's failed in Circuit Court here. When challenges were filed with the Vatican, alleging that the closings violated canon law, they lost at a departmental level and before a panel of judges from the Apostolic Signatura, the top Vatican court.

The parishioners then appealed to the full Signatura, an action that canon lawyers in Rome and Milwaukee said is unlikely to succeed.

Opponents of the mergers had hoped the challenges would delay action until former Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland retired and his successor was installed. But Dolan has opted not to reverse any mergers and closings.

Frank Mrnik, a leader of the group of former St. Joseph's parishioners who opposed their merger, reacted to the continuing efforts to sell the property, saying: "This flies in the face of our appeal with the plenary session in Rome. We don't see it as an appeal of the merger. We see it as an appeal of selling the church," where the parishioners were for 95 years.

St. Joseph's was merged with two other Cudahy parishes, Holy Family and St. Frederick's, to form Nativity of the Lord Parish.

The site of a third closed parish that joined in the challenges and appeals, the former St. Patrick's Parish in the Town of Erin, is being used as a chapel and is not for sale, Schneider said.

A version of this story appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Nov. 2, 2002.