Judge to decide if former parishioners can join suit
A Carbon County judge took under advisement a petition to intervene filed by members of the former Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church of Nesquehoning. The members want to join in a court action involving the new Catholic Church in their community, against the borough's zoning hearing board.
Senior Judge Richard W. Webb conducted a hearing Monday morning on the petition filed by Our Lady of Mount Carmel Inc. (OLMC) to join in the matter pending before the court.
St. Francis of Assisi Church, which was formed when the Diocese of Allentown closed the three Catholic churches in Nesquehoning, has filed an appeal to a decision by the zoning hearing board denying its request for a variance to construct a handicap ramp at the church, located along Mill Street. The new church is the former Immaculate Conception Church building.
OLMC Inc. is a group of former parishioners of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church that was closed by the diocese to form the new church. The group has filed an appeal with the Vatican in Rome to have the church reopened. One of the arguments the group has presented in its fight to have the church reopened is that it is handicapped accessible.
Yesterday two members of the group, Joseph Fauzio and Donato Farole, testified at the hearing stating they were concerned about the new church and its location. Both stated their group filed the petition to intervene because one of their arguments to have their former church reopened is that it is handicapped accessible.
Fauzio also testified that as a member of the new church he was concerned about the cost of a handicap ramp proposed to be built at the Mill St. church, and if the parishioners were going to have to pay for it. He said the former OLMC church has a handicap ramp.
Fauzio also admitted that the group wants to join in the appeal complaint filed by the church of the denial of the variance because it might help their cause to get their former church reopened.
Fauzio said that the appeal is still pending in the Vatican and that the diocese has been granted an extension to May 27 to respond to their petition.
Fauzio said the OLMC Inc. has about 162 members.
Also offering testimony was the Rev. Anthony M. Drouncheck, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church. He told the court he has been pastor for about a year and a half and was appointed to the post after the churches were merged.
Concerning the cost of the new ramp, estimated to be about $90,000, Drouncheck said two persons have agreed to donate the funds to cover the cost of the ramp and therefore, no money will be taken from parishioners' dues.
He also said in making the decision to chose the former Immaculate Conception church building as the site of the new church, the handicap requirement was only one of many criteria used in making the decision.
Attorney Joseph J. Matika, who represents the OLMC Inc., argued that the group had a right to intervene in the matter. He said Fauzio and Farole both live near the church and have concerns not only about the ramp but traffic patterns in the area.
Attorney Thomas S. Nanovic, who represents the diocese in the matter, said that the matter is strictly a church decision and the local court should not get involved in such matters. He said the court should only concern itself with the appeal of the zoning decision.
Attorney Cynthia S. Ray, who is counsel for the zoning board, said she felt the OLMC Inc. has a right to intervene since many of the parishioners of the new church pay dues and have an interest in how their funds are spent.
Webb said he was aware that the court should not get itself involved in matters that are strictly the concerns of the church and added that he understood the feelings of the people who lost their church to the consolidation by the diocese. He said he would review the matter and issue an opinion shortly.