Friday, March 31, 2006

St. Augustine Church Takeover

Capitalism & Racism in Religion

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Several people have occupied St. Augustine Catholic Church in the Treme area of New Orleans, for over a week to date, to draw attention to the unjust treatment this parrish is recieving from the archdiocese.

This will be history some day.

Jesse Jackson & Al Sharpton stopped by this evening. You'll see it soon.

Related Links ::: VIDEO: Jesse Jackson & Al Sharpton at St. Augustine Church, VIDEO: Occupied St Augustine Church Press Conference, Catholics On Line ~SPIN, 1/2 a story from KATC, NOLA views, Save St. Augustine Parish Website, Official St. Augustine Parish Website

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Blogger ~ FluxRostrum said...

Confrontational protest can and does work

Parish gets chance to prove itself a blessing

St. Augustine, archdiocese agree on steps needed for reopening
Sunday, April 09, 2006
By Bruce Nolan
Staff writer

Archbishop Alfred Hughes said Saturday that he will reopen historic St. Augustine parish for 18 months, giving its parishioners a chance to meet recovery benchmarks they and the archdiocese worked out in two days of behind-the-scenes meetings last week.

The agreement, which all sides praised as a "win/win," ends the most contentious public dispute in recent memory within the local Catholic community.

Under the agreement, a handful of protesters on Saturday left the St. Augustine rectory they had occupied for 20 days.

In addition, Hughes on Saturday morning formally reconsecrated St. Augustine in a ritual the archdiocese said was required after angry parishioners and their supporters disrupted the Rev. Michael Jacques' attempt to celebrate Mass there on March 26.

Before this weekend's reversal, Jacques' nearby St. Peter Claver Parish was to have been enlarged to include St. Augustine. Jacques was named to replace the Rev. Jerome LeDoux, St. Augustine's popular pastor of 15 years.

The reconsecration made the 164-year-old church available for worship at the outset of the holiest week of the year for Christians. Hughes said the significance of the Easter season, in which renewal springs out of defeat, weighed heavily in his search for a resolution.

"In the liturgical season we're in, we're called to reach out in mutual respect and forgiveness in light of Christ's passion, death and resurrection," Hughes said. He said he viewed the resolution of the conflict as a message appropriate to the season of rebirth.

"What a way to start Holy Week," said Sandra Gordon, a leader of St. Augustine's parishioners and their supporters, in a separate interview. "We've been carrying our cross these last weeks. But I always knew our church was going to be resurrected."

To set the tone for the healing both sides want, Hughes said he will concelebrate Palm Sunday Mass at the Treme church today at 10 a.m., joined by Jacques and perhaps by LeDoux, who left the parish shortly after it was formally closed on March 15.

Gordon said LeDoux planned to attend, but that could not be confirmed Saturday.

Goals, and deadlines
Hughes and the parishioners said they set 12 goals the parish must
meet over the next 18 months.

They require, among other things, that the parish grow from 300 to 400 families, institute religious education for the parish's Catholic children, launch formal ministries to the sick and bereaved, and submit a balanced budget by Oct. 1.

The parish will close if the goals are not met, Hughes said.

In addition, LeDoux's religious order, the Society of the Divine Word, agreed to supply a priest for the trial period, with the expectation that he can become pastor if St. Augustine meets its goals.

LeDoux himself can return to celebrate Mass six times this year and six times in 2007, the archdiocese said. The agreement does not rule out LeDoux becoming St. Augustine's full-time priest again, but the archdiocese does not expect that to happen.

Parishioners and the archdiocese agreed to quarterly meetings to review their progress.

The agreement apparently ends a grueling clash dating back to early February. It was then that the archdiocese announced a sweeping plan to reorganize parish life in a Catholic community that suffered $84 million in uninsured flood losses, and where 35 parishes were torn apart by Hurricane Katrina.

The plan grouped battered parishes with vibrant ones. Parishioners from the most heavily damaged churches and neighborhoods were steered to working parishes until their own could be rebuilt. But seven were permanently closed -- including St. Augustine.

Rich heritage
The plan to close parishes set off cries of protest among several congregations, but none more than at St. Augustine. One of the city's oldest, it was a diverse place where slaves, slave owners and free persons of color worshipped side by side in the mid-19th century. By
the mid-20th century, it had become a predominantly white, blue-collar parish of close-knit families. More recently, its Treme neighborhood became virtually all-black and, to the parish's detriment, heavily Protestant.

The archdiocese said St. Augustine had been limping for years, unable to offer its relatively few families a full array of ministries, and regularly subsidized by an archdiocese that, after Katrina, could no longer afford to do so.

Parishioners protested. Standing on high ground near the French Quarter, St. Augustine had not flooded, although it reportedly received about $400,000 in roof and top-down water damage.

Supporters said that because of damage to surrounding churches, St. Augustine was attracting more people and more income after the storm than before. They launched an unsuccessful appeal to Hughes and were readying another one to the Vatican.

Their relatively thin ranks were significantly swelled by self-described barely Catholic and non-Catholic friends of St. Augustine. The newcomers said they valued the church as an anchor for the Treme neighborhood, for LeDoux's somewhat unorthodox but committed priesthood, and for the parish's historical importance in the cultural and spiritual life of the city.

Media spotlight
For the last reason especially, the fate of St. Augustine attracted nationwide media attention. In recent weeks the church became a stop for national civil rights figures such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and former Mayor Marc Morial. National stories about the conflict cast it as another bitter legacy of Hurricane Katrina, and a test of New Orleanians' ability to resolve colliding interests in the midst of a difficult recovery.

Hughes announced the agreement Saturday morning outside the church, on a shady sidewalk plaza where for nearly three weeks the unhappy parishioners kept vigil, held jazz concerts, conducted news conferences and occasionally received pans of cooked food from neighborhood supporters.

Some of the food was passed through open windows into the occupied rectory to provision young people from secular hurricane relief organizations who seized it March 20 in support of the parish.

During that time the archdiocese elected not to retake the rectory forcibly. Its spokesman, the Rev. William Maestri, presented the archdiocese's views as parishioners issued various statements, but the archdiocese did not try to seize the initiative.

The low point came March 26, when protesters disrupted Jacques' first Mass at St. Augustine. Meanwhile, parishioners said they were appalled to see that the archdiocese had arranged to have armed plainclothes New Orleans police officers among the congregation in
case of violence.

Mediation effort
Gordon, the head of St. Augustine's parish council, said the archdiocese early last week quietly broached the idea of talks mediated by Ted Quant of Loyola University's Twomey Center for Peace through Justice.

The talks consumed about eight hours over two days at Loyola University and Notre Dame Seminary, Quant said.

He declined to describe them in detail, but said they went relatively well from start to finish.

"Our approach was that both sides were coming to this from different directions, but both in the context of faith," he said. That provided valuable common ground on which to build, Quant said.

Orissa Arend, a social worker and St. Augustine supporter, praised the skills of negotiators in reaching what she called an honest resolution.

Referring to both the archdiocese and St. Augustine's parishioners, she said: "We're all going to work together at this, and this is going to work.

"This is not just the postponement of disaster. This is going to work."

. . . . . . .

Bruce Nolan can be reached at or (504) 826-3344

8:22 AM  

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