Last of protesting parishioners leave St. Anthony's

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An overnight sit-in that started Saturday evening at St. Anthony's Church in Monongahela ended at about 11:45 a.m. today when the last three parishioners who had been participating walked out together.

The group of parishioners protesting the closure of the 100-year-old Monongahela Catholic church gave in after the Diocese of Pittsburgh turned off the lights and refused to let them open church windows or leave and bring back food and water.

“The diocese has made conditions deplorable,” said Laura Magone, 53, one of the last three to leave. 

Parishioners began the sit-in Saturday evening after the celebration of the last Mass at the church. About 180 to 200 people attended the 4 p.m. Mass according to Father Bill Terza, pastor of St. Damien of Molokai.

St. Anthony and Transfiguration Church, about five blocks away, have been merged into what is now called St. Damien. Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik decided to close St. Anthony’s.

Father Terza said the church’s ritual for closing a church is to have all attendees leave the church after the Mass. The church is then closed.

“That’s what we’re supposed to do,” he said this morning.

He said electricity in the church was not turned off and that the protesters could obtain water from the church’s restrooms.

Ms. Magone described the situation differently. She said five security guards were inside the church with the parishioners and refused to let them open the windows, which would have allowed supporters to pass in food and water. The protesters were told that if they left the church they would not be allowed back in.

“We have learned that as Catholics in the Pittsburgh Diocese we have no rights,” she said. “We really felt we were not treated well by the Catholic Church, and we really were not treated well as American citizens.”

Ms. Magone said parishioner Diane Anthony, 54, and Ms. Anthony’s 13-year-old daughter Elizabeth remained in the church with her this morning.

She said closing the church was unjustified.

“These people live the Gospel. They have a beautiful church that honors God,” Ms. Magone said. “We would have been here for months."

The group plans to follow Catholic procedures to contest the closing and is looking into hiring a canon lawyer who will argue their case before the Vatican.

In a statement issued last month, the diocese said the decision to close St. Anthony’s was based on two factors: maintaining two churches drained the diocese’s resources and the new home for St. Damien’s, has a more central location and better sound and mechanical systems.

First Published April 26, 2014 11:55 PM

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