Bishop to talk with mayor, Kaptur about future of St. Anthony Ch - News, Weather, Sports, Toledo, OH

Bishop to talk with mayor, Kaptur about future of St. Anthony Church

Historic marker outside St. Anthony's (Source: WTOL) Historic marker outside St. Anthony's (Source: WTOL)
(Source: City of Toledo) (Source: City of Toledo)
TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) -

After an 11th-hour reprieve for St. Anthony Catholic Church in Central Toledo that involved a stop work order, Bishop Daniel Thomas has agreed to meet Tuesday with Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur and Lucas County Land Bank President David Mann to discuss the future of the building.

Kapszukiewicz and Mann both sent letters to the bishop asking him to reconsider the decision to raze the building that dates to 1891, citing its potential for redevelopment for the neighborhood.

Demolition work on the Toledo Diocese-owned building was scheduled to begin as early as Monday.

On Sunday afternoon, however, the city of Toledo issued a stop work order, citing two reasons: the city’s building inspections department does not have documentation that water and sewer caps have been installed and an out-of-compliance fence. As of Monday, some of those issues had been resolved.

On Saturday, local politicians, community leaders and former church leaders rallied outside St. Anthony calling for the Diocese of Toledo to save the building, which closed in 2005 because of declining membership.

Meanwhile, Doug Berger of the group Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie said the diocese should do anything it wants with the church.

“Because we believe in separation of church and state. And don’t believe city officials should force the diocese to keep a building that it doesn’t want,” said Berger.

The group believes that "government demanding the Toledo Diocese to keep a building that needs massive costly renovations, with no actual plan for reuse, is an impermissible burden on the Church and crosses the line between church and state."

However, Councilman Ujvagi doesn't believe it crosses this line.

"The notion of preserving historic buildings in our community, re-purposing them so they continue to be a symbol in our community is not a question of church and state. It is to me the question of the right thing to do. The discussion at this point is not about bringing back the parish," Ujvagi said.

The Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie say these comments by Ujvagi are misleading at best.

"The church is decrepit and a potential safety hazard especially with the 200 foot plus steeple," the group said in a statement. "Who is going to pay for any renovation? The city can't because the property is owned by the church and the 1st amendment prohibits direct funding of religious groups. The church has no parishioners so they can't fund any renovations."

Below is the group's full statement: 

The Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie (SHoWLE) believe that the comments of Councilman Peter Ujvagi in a news report yesterday about the city's effort to stop the Diocese of Toledo from tearing down St. Anthony's Church on Nebraska Ave. are at least misinformed and not helpful.

Mr. Ujvagi's claim that he didn't see any church and state issues in the crusade is misleading at best. St. Anthony's Church is not in Ujvagi's council district so we ask why does it seem he is taking a lead to save the church?

Why have we not seen or heard from members of the actual neighborhood where the church resides?

Would there be a marshaling of the city council and leadership to the cause if Rep. Marcy Kaptur didn't have a personal conflict of interest in saving the church?

The Padua Center currently serves the neighborhood with needed services and had planned to use the cleared land to expand their reach. Does Mr. Ujvagi and the city have an alternative plan to help them?

The church is decrepit and a potential safety hazard especially with the 200 foot plus steeple. Who is going to pay for any renovation? The city can't because the property is owned by the church and the 1st amendment prohibits direct funding of religious groups. The church has no parishioners so they can't fund any renovations.

Recent federal court cases have been clear. A government must have a compelling reason to demand a church to act in a certain way. If the church was crumbling and there was a risk of collapse the city could demand it be torn down, for example. The courts require that there be strict scrutiny of the demands and that there is no other less restrictive alternative action to take.

SHoWLE believes that government demanding the Toledo Diocese keep a building that needs massive costly renovations, with no actual plan for reuse, is an impermissible burden on the Church and crosses the line between church and state.

Toledo has seen many churches erected throughout its history; a few considered true architectural masterpieces and all of them of importance to their members at one time or another. The evidence is clear; it is the commitment of a congregation choosing maintenance and preservation that keeps these structures in existence. The parish that once occupied the building still known today as St. Anthony of Padua has long since abandoned it. 

We believe it is the right of the Catholic Diocese operating as a business within the city of Toledo to do with the property as it sees fit to benefit its enterprise. Furthermore, and of most importance, it should be the voices of the current community which are heard regarding the future of the property; not those of nostalgic elected officials. 

It is the responsibility of our elected officials to act in the best interest of their constituents. Representing the City of Toledo in an official capacity in order to serve their own religious interests, is a clear violation of the 1st Amendment and at the very least a heavy-handed attempt at controlling the free enterprise of a well-established business.

Erin Claussen, of the group Preserve Toledo, said options include an arts and community center or even apartments.

“It just towers over the neighborhood. It’s a huge asset, beautiful historical building. That neighborhood is full of empty lots. Doesn’t need another one," said Claussen.

The diocese planned to raze the church because it was unsafe, then donate the land to a neighboring community center.

Freezing the demolition permits was a last-ditch effort to stop the wrecking ball.

“I’m happy to see the stop work order has been issued and posted,” said Toledo City Councilman Peter Ujvagi.

On Sunday afternoon, the diocese issued a statement that said, "It is our understanding that all required permits and permissions for the proposed demolition were duly requested of and granted by the City of Toledo."

The diocese also said it had not gotten a copy of the stop work order but will comply with legal requirements.

Copyright 2018 WTOL. All rights reserved.

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