A dispute between a Catholic Church and a township is getting fiery including accusations and allegations of lying and misleading. If it gets any uglier someone may have to step in and separate the Church and the state.
The church congregation of St. Francis De Sales in Ajax township wants the 20 stained glass windows at the former St. Francis, on Church Street South, moved to the new site. However, the Town bought the building for $50,000 from the archdiocese and the sale, they say, included the windows.
Father Roy Roberts, the church’s pastor, said the matter is “certainly unfortunate, says a small Canadian newspaper.
The dispute started over stained glass windows at the former St. Francis building but now the township is going after the church saying there’s been complaints over the ringing of church bells. The bell-ringing, the township says, upsets neighbours of the new church building on Ravenscroft Road and led to the laying of a noise complaint by the Town. That complaint heads to court sometime later this spring.
Fr. Roberts said any negotiations with the Town over the windows is being handled by the Archdiocese of Toronto. So now before they can deal with the stained glass window issue, they have first to deal with the bell-ringing issue. One Church parishioner, Judy Marshall, said at the council meeting that the bells at the new church are rung at “the same pattern and frequency” going back to 1960.
Mayor Parish said last year the Town started receiving noise complaints from neighbours of the church.
Fr. Roberts said, “Contrary to the mayor’s misinformation, the parish has not increased the volume of the bells, or been ringing them at very unusual times and at a very unusual frequency. The frequency has been consistent, a continuation of the practice established at the old church.”
But oddly enough, the bell ringing complaints began after the window dispute flared up.
But back to the windows. During a recent town council meeting, Mayor Parish stated the old church building was given a heritage designation (at the request of parishioners) in 1999 and “one of six reasons for the heritage designation were the windows.”
But the Church argues that the windows were paid for by families who helped build the original building in the 1870s. And they have plans for the windows in the new church.
“We had always intended to bring them with us,” Fr. Roberts said of the windows. “We left a place for them, not as structural glass, but as art panels.
“There’s a sequence of stories in eight of the panels,” he added. “The panel of St. Francis, we have a prominent place at the entrance way.”
Fr. Roberts also said the Mayor’s claims are misleading. “The Town declared the old church historical at the parish’s request. Half true. There was a minority group in the parish that went to the Town, but not in the parish’s name. The Town claims the Archdiocese did not challenge it. True. Under the provincial legislation of the day, the designation would not have prevented the parish from removing the stained glass. When the parish was asked to allow an historical plaque on the church property, it refused because the Archdiocese did not officially recognize the historical designation. Provincial revisions in 2002 led to the present issues whereby the Town has been granted absolute power over the windows’ removal.”
Mayor Parish said he made a bona fide offer to the church for some of the windows, but Rev. Roberts “unequivocally” rejected that offer.
The Archdiocese has, according to Fr. Roberts, offered to replicate these windows for the township. “The Archdiocese presented an option whereby the windows can be easily replicated. In that situation, the parish desires to respect the intention of the original window donors. Descendants we have been in contact with have expressed great disappointment with the Town and its denial of the windows’ place in the Catholic community.”
Fr. Roberts wondered what the town would do with the stained glass windows anyway. “Certainly one of many issues that the parish has with the Town is that they cannot be vigilant custodians protecting the dignity and sacredness of those religious icons. “
This whole thing seems kind of odd. If I were to sell a house and then took all the windows with me, that would be a problem, right. But on the other hand, what possible use does the township have for the stained glass windows? Is it because they look pretty? Seems kind of weak especially in light of the fact that the Archdiocese has offered up the possibility of replicating the windows.
Let’s hope something good comes out of this. As the saying goes, God doesn’t close a door without opening a window, right?