Losing Ground

News: US News
by Martina Moyski  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  January 17, 2023   

Landmark Buffalo church sold to Muslims

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The diocese of Buffalo has sold a historic — and beloved — German Catholic church to a Muslim organization.


St. Ann Church

(Photo: Derek Gee/News file photo)

The Downtown Islamic Center (DIC) bought the 164-year-old St. Ann Church, as well as its school and former convent, for $250,000, according to a diocesan press release. Parishioners fought for years to keep the church open — even petitioning Rome.

The DIC plans to repurpose the almost-1-acre plot into a mosque and the largest Islamic Center in North America. It celebrated the takeover as a "dream come true for all the Muslims in Buffalo and all over the United States."

Michael Hichborn, president of the Lepanto Institute — which is named after the victory of Christian naval forces over the Ottoman Turks in 1571 — deplored the sale.

Hichborn told Church Militant on Tuesday, "Bishops aren't supposed to be corporate CEOs. They're the stewards of souls. So it's absolutely damnable for the diocese to refuse to sell this church to faithful Catholics while practically giving it to the Muslims."

The Faithful Denied

Indeed, for well over a decade, parishioners and Friends of St. Ann fought to save their church and pushed back on every obstacle the diocese put in their way.

It's absolutely damnable for the diocese to refuse to sell this church to faithful Catholics.

In 2011, when then-bishop of Buffalo Edward Kmiec ordered St. Ann's closed, the parishioners rallied, eventually petitioning Rome to spare it.

In 2013, the diocese received estimates that claimed the building needed $8–$12 million for repairs before it could again be used for worship. But parishioners quickly received their own estimates indicating "the most pressing work" — to "address safety concerns — mortar replacement, stone stabilization and other repairs on the two towers" could be done "for less than $200,000."

When, in the same year, the diocese declared the building would be demolished, the parishioners petitioned Buffalo's Common Council to approve the landmark status of their church in an effort to preserve it.

Then the diocese countermoved by putting demolition on hold and announced it would be open to selling the sacred site for nonreligious use. But parishioners celebrated news from the Vatican in 2014 that St. Ann's could not be used for a "profane" (i.e., nonreligious) use.

In 2017, however, St. Ann's suffered a knockout punch. The diocesan appeal to the Apostolic Signatura to overturn the Ruling of the Congregation for the Clergy rendered a verdict in favor of the diocese. 

In March 2022, The Buffalo News reported on the sale of the property, "A group of local businesspeople and investors is buying the St. Ann's Church and Shrine complex, with the intention of preserving the church while turning the rectory and school building into a facility for short-term mental health care."

The report said that, since the deal is not yet final and involves a nondisclosure agreement, the buyers would not be identified publicly.

On Nov. 16, 2022, the diocese issued a press release announcing the sale of the magnificent 164-year-old church. "The sale of the former St. Ann's Church property located at 651 Broadway, Buffalo, closed today," it read.

The diocese's press release regarding the sale

A former parishioner and co-chair of Friends of St. Ann, Martin Ederer, told Church Militant he was crushed but not surprised by the final outcome.

In the January–February 2023 issue of the internationally distributed newspaper The German Citizen, Ederer wrote

For those of us who worked so hard for well over a decade to preserve St. Ann Church in its original state, this is a bitter ending. The streetscape will be preserved. The German Catholic heritage of the place, however, will be stripped out and lost. The vast majid — a mosque — is the future for the church. According to Islam's own rules, all Christian art and imagery must go. How much the Diocese of Buffalo will remove or preserve remains to be seen. There is little hope for optimism. 

Ederer, a state university professor in Buffalo, bears no animosity towards the members of the DIC. On the contrary, he commends them, writing, "They have a faith and a vision and a zeal for the future."

He didn't bear the same sentiments for the diocese, however. "In our attempts to save St. Ann Church and Shrine from the stripped-out future that now awaits," he said, "we encountered precious little of those things from the Diocese of Buffalo, and no openness to any solution outside done-deal plans."

Appropriate Sale?

Attorney Brody Hale, president of the St. Stephen Protomartyr Project, which works to preserve Catholic churches for sacred use, questions whether the guidelines of the Dicastery for the Clergy of the Holy See (the Vatican department in charge of the closure and sale of churches) were followed.

Attorney Brody Hale

Hale said the dicastery instructs that when "financial insufficiency is pled as a grave cause to justify the relegation of a church to profane but not sordid use," it must be demonstrated that all sources of funding have been found "lacking or inadequate." 

But the attorney doesn't believe this was demonstrated and contends that the diocese of Buffalo "did not fully assess the capability of the Friends of St. Ann to restore the church prior to fighting their attempts to undertake the restoration all the way to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, where, of course, the diocese was victorious."

Hale said, "At the end of the day, I don't believe the Holy See truly cares about its own rules."

A Troubling Trend

What happened at St. Ann in Buffalo seems to be part of an accelerating trend of closing, selling and demolishing churches in the United States.

At the end of the day, I don't believe the Holy See truly cares about its own rules.

Church Militant recently reported on the historic All Saints Church in Detroit as just one example of this trend. The church needed $160,000 for repairs but was sold by the archdiocese to a Muslim realtor for an estimated $300,000. The more than 100-year-old church was subsequently razed in 2022.

News Report: Detroit Church Demolished

Ederer ended his article lamenting and praying for Catholics wishing to preserve their sacred spaces. He wrote, "What will remain for Catholics is a legacy of stale bureaucratic arrogance, cultural and artistic destruction, and no interest in an ethnic and faith heritage — in a word, desolation. God help us all."

But Brody encouraged Catholics to keep up the fight: "I must say that resistance is never useless. ... The more Catholics who stand up and defend our sacred churches, the harder it will be for those authorities in this country and in Rome who wish to continue liquidating them to get away with doing so."

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