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Appeal to save St. Sebastian Church goes to Vatican

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    Former parishioners of St. Sebastian Catholic Church explore the inside of the building Thursday, February 22, 2018, in Bismarck, Ohio. They are appealing to the Vatican in an effort to save their church, which has been closed since 2005, from demolition by the Diocese of Toledo.

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    Former parishioners of St. Sebastian Catholic Church including Deb Bumb, left, and Chelsea Arndt are appealing to the Vatican in an effort to save their church, which has been closed since 2005, from demolition by the Diocese of Toledo Thursday, February 22, 2018, in Bismarck, Ohio.

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    Former parishioners of St. Sebastian Catholic Church including Carol Stacklin are appealing to the Vatican in an effort to save their church, which has been closed since 2005, from demolition.

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    Exterior of of St. Sebastian Catholic Church.

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BISMARCK, Ohio — Former parishioners of St. Sebastian Catholic Church here are hoping the Vatican will step in to save their church from the wrecking ball.

The 161-year-old church has stood vacant in Huron County since 2005, when it was shuttered amid of a wave of closures and consolidations under then-Bishop Leonard Blair.

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Former parishioners of St. Sebastian Catholic Church including Deb Bumb, left, and Chelsea Arndt are appealing to the Vatican in an effort to save their church, which has been closed since 2005, from demolition by the Diocese of Toledo Thursday, February 22, 2018, in Bismarck, Ohio.

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The Diocese of Toledo had arranged for its demolition to begin as early as this week. But former parishioners on Monday put in motion plans to file a petition for canonical recourse with the Congregation for the Clergy at the Vatican, calling the highest levels of church hierarchy to overrule the diocese in its decision to raze the church.

This puts on hold any immediate plans for demolition, according to diocesan spokeswoman Kelly Donaghy.

“We honor our canonical systems and are happy to see them being used,” she said. “We’ll abide by whatever decisions are being made.”

The appeal to the Vatican comes on the heels of an earlier appeal to the Diocese of Toledo, in which former parishioners had called on the diocese to reverse its decision late last year to relegate the church to “profane but not sordid use.”

This status allows a once-sacred space to be used for common purposes, and ultimately paved the way for demolition.

The diocese denied this appeal earlier this month.

Deb Bumb, a former parishioner, said she and others were under the impression that the church must obtain this status in order for it to be sold or donated to the foundation of a former parishioner, which had offered to take financial responsibility for the church.

Ms. Bumb said the announcement that it would instead be razed came as a surprise.

The former parishioners are now retaining the services of a canon lawyer, according to Angela Phillips, who has been active in efforts to save the church. The petition to the Vatican has not yet been filed, but is expected to be submitted to the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C., within the timeline for such filings.

It is not known how long the appeals process will last.

A second church in the area, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Reed Township, Seneca County, had also been scheduled for demolition as early as this week. It, too, closed in 2005.

Asbestos removal began at this church on Monday, but no immediate demolition is scheduled. Ms. Donaghy said the diocese is continuing to work through a diocesan-level appeal.

The wave of closures and consolidations that took place in the diocese more than a decade ago proved to be emotional for many parishioners, including those of Holy Rosary Catholic Church in East Toledo and St. James Catholic Church in Kansas, Ohio, who took their causes to the Vatican in 2005.

The Vatican ultimately upheld the diocesan decision to close the parishes.

Parishioners of St. James proceeded to argue their case civilly in the Seneca County Common Pleas Court, appealing all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court.

St. Sebastian Church, near Bellevue, was built in 1857. Ms. Phillips, who does not live within the Diocese of Toledo but whose family has a longstanding ties to the church, said she and others would ideally like to see the church remain open as a chapel, or, at least, as a museum.

In communications to parishioners of St. Gaspar del Bufalo Parish, where former parishioners of St. Sebastian were steered following the closure of the parish in 2005, the Diocese of Toledo has cited deterioration and financial burden as the reason for the planned demolitions.

Requests to turn St. Sebastian over to a private owner have been denied largely because it lies adjacent to a cemetery that St. Gaspar del Bufalo Parish continues to maintain, according to those communications.

Contact Nicki Gorny at ngorny@theblade.com or 419-724-6133.

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