PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - The Pass Christian Board of Alderman decided Monday night that St. Paul's Catholic Church can be torn down. It's the decision the Catholic Diocese was hoping for; they're seeking a permit to tear down the hurricane-damaged building. But, for those who've been fighting to save the church, they say it's a disappointment.
People crowded in doorways and lined the walls of Pass Christian's city courtroom during Monday night's public hearing. Much of the hearing centered on whether St. Paul's Catholic Church is a historical structure.
Brunini Law Firm represented the Catholic Diocese of Biloxi. Henry "Tut" Kinney, an attorney by trade, spoke on behalf of the people. He spoke only as a church member; he is not representing the parishioners as an attorney in this matter.
Among the issues both sides argued: the relevance of the building's age, its historical value and how it ties into the designated historical district as laid out in the city's historical ordinance.
"It's clearly not over 50 years old," Steve Carmody of Brunini Law Firm. "It clearly does not have any aesthetic value to the [historical] district and it has no redeemable architectural and historical significance."
Kinney countered saying to the board, "Read the words, the concept of what it [the ordinance]was designed to protect. It was not limited to 50-year-old structures. It talks about cultural significance. It talks about the social fabric of this community."
The two also disputed whether the building was structurally sound. The Diocese has made the claim the building is structurally unsound following Hurricane Katrina. Parishioners, however, have pointed to independent reports suggesting otherwise.
The board heard from both sides for more than an hour. Following the testimony, it went into executive session. Nearly 40 minutes later, the board emerged, some expressing difficulty in coming to a decision.
"It's not a fun decision. None of us are happy about having to make it one way or another," said Alderman Huey Bang.
Alderman Anthony Hall chimed in saying, " I called several people throughout the week, and I've read and I've read and I've read on both sides."
Alderman Joseph Piernas concluded, "We got to do what's necessary. So I got to make a decision tonight that I feel comfortable with."
City Attorney Malcolm Jones read the board's decision, outlining the points it considered in granting the permit to tear down St. Paul's.
Among its conclusions, it said the building is not designated as a landmark, nor is under consideration to be one. It also said tearing the building down would not take away from the character of the historic district.
The board's decision reverses the initial permit denial by the city's Historical Preservation Commission.
Shirley Henderson, Communication Director for The Catholic Diocese of Biloxi, released a statement following the board's decision Monday night: "With tonight's decision by the Pass Christian Board of Aldermen, that the St. Paul building is not deemed a historical structure, Father Dennis Carver, pastor of Holy Family Parish, can move forward. This has been a long, sad road to travel, and there are many hurt feelings. We will continue to pray for the individuals involved in this dispute and for healing of Holy Family Parish and the Pass Christian community."
The Diocese merged St. Paul's into the Holy Family Parish after deciding not to rebuild the church.
City Attorney Malcolm Jones said the parishioners can appeal the board's decision. But, there would be restrictions on who could file the appeal on behalf of the group to the courts.
Henry "Tut" Kinney, who spoke on behalf of the parishioners, told WLOX the parishioners need time to digest the board's decision before they decide on their next move.