December 5, 2011

NORTH BAY, ONT. – Former parishioners at two North Bay, Ont., churches have taken their bishop to court in Rome in an attempt to force him to reopen their already closed, deconsecrated and sold churches.

The groups of former parishioners from St. Rita's and Corpus Christi have submitted long-form appeals to the Congregation for the Clergy asking that the churches be reopened for Catholic worship of some kind.

The groups argue that their churches were not closed for a valid and grave reason, as required under canon law.

Leader of the Corpus Christi appeal, Phillip Penna, believes they can persuade Rome to rule in their favour because their case is exactly parallel to that of three parishes in Springfield, Mass.

In early November the Apostolic Signatura (Rome's highest court) ordered that the three Springfield churches must remain open for worship.

"The decision being the same as we are arguing, namely that there was no valid, grave reason provided by the diocese for its decision to close the church and reduce it to profane use," Penna wrote in an email.

The groups are not contesting Bishop Jean-Marie Plouffe's decision to suppress the parishes. They ask the Congregation for the Clergy to force Plouffe to keep the buildings open for worship.

In a letter to Catholics in North Bay, Plouffe argues that Rome cannot reverse the sale of Corpus Christi.

"The law of the land prevails in land transactions. Besides, canon law defers to the law of the land wherever possible," wrote Plouffe in his July 29 letter.

Penna wants Rome to force Plouffe "to approach the present owner, Belisle Investments, to negotiate a reversal of the sale."

"Although nothing is certain, we anticipate that the Congregation for the Clergy will agree that we have followed canon law and have acted in the best interests of all the faithful of the city of North Bay and our diocese," said Plouffe.

Decisions made by the Congregation for the Clergy can be appealed to the Apostolic Signatura.