Pass Christian mayor vetoes church demolition

PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - By Danielle Thomas – bio | email

PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - "Let the games continue." Those are the words Pass Christian Mayor Chipper McDermott used as he vetoed a decision by the Board of Aldermen to allow the demolition of St. Paul Catholic Church.

Those words brought a scathing rebuttal from the Biloxi Diocese, which wants to tear down the Katrina damaged sanctuary.

Parishioner Frank Schmidt is fighting to save his beloved St. Paul Catholic Church from the wrecking ball.

"We want this church back as a church," said Schmidt. "So Catholics that have been here for generations and generations can have a place to worship."

Mayor Chipper McDemott said while losing St. Paul would break the heart of a town that's 80 percent Catholic, he knows the city can't make the Diocese repair or rebuild the church. However, the mayor said Pass Christian can demand more of an explanation from the Diocese about what will be taking the church's place.

"What are they going to build? A grassy knoll is not good enough," said Mayor McDermott. "Four point two five acres of some of the most prime property on the Gulf Coast. Do we have to wait five, six, seven years for somebody to buy it? That land is worth $4.5 million on the hoof, I can tell you that. So the question is, is a vacant lot better than a structure that may be repaired? Or what are they going to do? Tell us."

The mayor said the Diocese has broken promises before, That's why he wants those future plans in writing.

"I know the Catholic Church is bigger than the city of Pass Christian and they have their own agenda," said Mayor McDermott. "Fighting city hall is bad enough. Fighting the Vatican is a little harder than that."

The mayor also feels the property could become a troublesome eyesore.

"We've had to fight them over the previous years to keep the grounds up because it has been deplorable a lot of times," Mayor McDermott said. "This is in the middle of town. Like I told the Bishop one time before. He's from New Orleans. Would you do this on St. Charles Avenue? I don't think so."

Meanwhile, Schmidt said he's hoping the mayor's veto will encourage the Church officials to rethink tearing down St. Paul.

"I think it's possible to come to a settlement with the church authorities and that's what I hope for really," said Schmidt.

Mayor McDermott's words and actions sparked a stern response from the Diocese. Vicar General Father Dominick Fullam said in a statement saying, "It comes as no surprise that they and their allies in Pass Christian city government will continue to abuse the legal system to get their way. Still, this situation is no "game," as Mayor McDermott called it. The Church has a right to chart its own course, independent of political maneuvering, and we will endeavor to vindicate that right."

One way to do that could be through the courts. The Diocese submitted paperwork to Pass Christian's city attorney Wednesday night that said if aldermen voted to save St. Paul Catholic Church, legal action would be taken.

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