PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - The members of St. Paul's Catholic Church who want to see their church rebuilt, say they have won a victory in court.
The State Supreme Court has ruled a lower court can hear some of the complaints filed in a lawsuit dealing with money to rebuild the church.
St. Paul's has sat empty and in disrepair since not long after Katrina.
A group of about 150 parish members went to court because they don't like the diocese's idea to rebuild St. Paul's as a community center.
The plaintiffs say this is a painful process, but felt the diocese left them few options, other than going to court. The attorney representing the plaintiffs hopes this court decision will convince the diocese that now it is time to talk about this outside a courtroom.
"We would do that tomorrow," Eric Wooten told WLOX news. "If they would come to the table with us, we would be glad to talk. Frankly, that is why we filed the suit. They refused to have any dialogue."
Attorney Henry Kinney, a parish member of St. Paul's, is also a plaintiff in this case. He said the ruling this week leaves the diocese with only two options. Either return the money to all the donors, or use the money to rebuild St. Paul's.
Kinney said, "We are going to proceed, very vigorously to make sure the money donated to the diocese is used to rebuild this church."
Although no one know for sure, he estimates that money is in the millions. Kinney said they have no reason to believe the diocese has done anything illegal or unethical with the money.
The lawsuit also maintains that the church's priest, Father Dennis Carver, misled donors by telling them the money would be used to rebuild St. Paul's. The lawsuit maintains Father Carver knew that was not the case.
Dr. Frank Schmidt is a retired radiologist who has been a member of St. Paul's for decades.
"It is a fact, it is verifiable that he misled people," Dr. Schmidt said.
The plaintiffs are optimistic that this court decision could open the door to an out of court settlement that could lead to St. Paul's being a church again. However, they are also aware the issue could be in the courts for a long time to come, before that happens.
The Diocese of Biloxi issued the following statement about the court decision: "The Diocese of Biloxi is pleased that the Mississippi Supreme Court determined that the land, buildings and insurance settlement proceeds related to the former St. Paul Parish belong to Holy Family parish. With regard to the remaining issues that have been remanded to the Chancery Court, we are confident that after the court considers all of the evidence, that the church defendants will prevail. We are hopeful that this unfortunate litigation will soon be favorably concluded."