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ST. PETER, Kan. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A church in Kansas is under threat of destruction, a move opposed by local Catholics.
Salina's Bp. Gerald Vincke plans to deconsecrate and demolish St. Anthony of Padua Church in St. Peter, Kansas.
The actual parish of St. Anthony of Padua was closed in 1999. The upkeep of the parish campus was entrusted to the regional parish in Trego County of Christ the King in WaKeeney. In the immediate years after St. Anthony's closure, the rectory and school buildings were sold to different parties. The former rectory is now a private home. The school building is under different ownership and has fallen into disrepair.
Jerome Billinger, a local Catholic in St. Peter, established a preservation society to save the church edifice after the parish closed. Billinger's grandparents and great-grandparents are buried in St. Anthony's Cemetery.
The building dates back decades, having been erected after a previous structure was damaged by a twister in the 1940s. Parishioners at that time invested their hard-earned dollars — largely from growing wheat — to build a church that could withstand the frequent cyclones that blow easterly across the Kansas prairie.
Though St. Anthony's continues to stand against the Kansas prairie 72 years later, it is now threatened by a wrecking ball.
Bishop Vincke in an April 20 press release outlined his plans to demolish St. Anthony's in the immediate future.
"The population in St. Peter and the surrounding area has been in steady decline for decades and shows no sign of reversing," Bp. Vincke noted.
He also referred to a decree on April 8 that relegated St. Anthony's church to "profane, but not sordid use" — referencing a passage from the Code of Canon Law (canon 1222, ss. 1 and 2) that deals with decommissioning churches.
Vincke's desacralizing decree is lengthy but argues the upkeep and restoration at St. Anthony's cost more than they're worth. It notes the declining Catholic population in Trego County.
Bishop Vincke's intentions to demolish St. Anthony's have been met with disdain by Jerome Billinger and other Catholics in their preservation group. Billinger maintains the group approached Bp. Vincke with two serious proposals over a year ago to set up a trust to maintain St. Anthony's for the Trego County Catholic community. Additionally, Billinger stated that he has some good Catholics with money to make this trust a "win-win" situation for the Catholic Church and for future generations.
For the last few years, civil attorney Brody Hale has been assisting Billinger and the St. Anthony Preservation Society. On April 21, Hale filed an appeal in Rome asking the Congregation for Clerics to stay Bp. Vincke's plan to demolish St. Anthony's.
Bishop Vincke and the Salina diocese allowed laicized ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick to stay at a Franciscan friary in the diocese. When asked about Vincke's April 8 decree to desacralize and profane St. Anthony's, Hale compared the disparity between how Vincke treated McCarrick and how he's treating concerned parishioners.
"It's strange how a man who shows mercy for a serial predator shows no mercy whatsoever for future generations in his diocese, who will have no places to worship if his plan to demolish sanctuaries goes through."
Despite outcry from McCarrick's numerous victims as well as advocacy groups, Vincke did not chase the homosexual predator out of town. The Washington Post reported that Vincke had "mixed emotions" about ex-cardinal McCarrick coming to his diocese.
The laicized ex-cardinal has long since fled from Kansas and his whereabouts are now unclear. But the faithful Catholic remnant in Trego County, Kansas — where the little brick church stands amid wheat fields — wonders how much Christian mercy Bp. Vincke has for the little church and concerned Catholics on the Kansas prairie.