Parishioners file lawsuit to rebuild St. Paul Church

Published 4:30 pm Thursday, May 3, 2007

Parishioners opposed to moving St. Paul Church off the beachfront in Pass Christian have sued the Catholic Diocese of Biloxi.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday after months of meetings and protests by some parishioners who want the church rebuilt on its same spot.

The lawsuit was filed by 156 plaintiffs, including Pass Christian Mayor Chipper McDermott. Defendants include the diocese, Bishop Thomas J. Rodi and the Rev. Dennis Carver, pastor of the parish.

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“We want to know what our rights are as members of St. Paul’s,” said Frank Schmidt, a member of the group Save St. Paul’s and one of the plaintiffs of the lawsuit. “This land (on the beach) was originally deeded and trusted to the Catholic congregation, and we want to know the bishop’s obligation toward us so that the land is used for our benefit.”

Hurricane Katrina caused extensive damage to St. Paul Church. Members of the 160-year-old parish began worshipping at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, a separate Catholic parish in Pass Christian.

After the storm, Holy Family Parish was formed, which encompasses both churches. Earlier this year, Carver, with support from Rodi, told parishioners he would tear down Our Lady of Lourdes and build one church for Holy Family.

The site of the current St. Paul’s Church would be used for a community center for the diocese and the public, Carver said.

A lawsuit represents only one side of a legal complaint.

Shirley Henderson, spokeswoman for the diocese, said they had not seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on it.

“Given recent local news, this may be an attempt to force Holy Family Parish to have more than one church building. The bishop has already expressed support for the pastor’s decision that it is in the best long-term interest of the parish to be united in one church building,” Henderson said.

No court date has been set.