It’s been a busy summer, but not so busy that some desecrations should pass by unnoticed. I am talking about the status of St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in the North Side of Pittsburgh. The church was shuttered years ago and was stripped of its religious objects to make way for its sale to a would-be developer, now confirmed con man Rafaelo Follieri and his Follieri Group.
To get a sense of what was lost when workers tore out the marble altars, pews, and other objects from the church, check out the Post-Gazette photo of the church that is above. Antique marble altars literally were torn out of the building. Religious objects were taken away and allegedly disbursed among members of St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Millvale, the estranged sister congregation of the North Side church.
Why? Because some Italian con-man whose uncle is a Cardinal, and who at the time was dating lovely actress Anne Hathaway, said he wanted to buy the building. It makes you wonder if the Diocese is as swayed by celebrity as several investors, including Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle, appear to have been when they trusted the Italian con-man with their money.
But develop the church into what? When I asked Father Ron Lengwin, spokesman for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, what the building would be used for, he said he didn’t know, possibly apartments or senior housing. So, essentially the Diocese had broken off negotiations with Pittsburgh Croatian Catholics that wanted to save the church to create a national shrine, and had instead gone for the higher offer of Follieri, a person they obviously hadn’t vetted. It makes you think that perhaps the Diocese was biased against those who wanted to save the church. Some of the former parishioners have said as much, but really, actions speak louder than words.
With behavior like this, it’s no wonder that the Catholic Church in Pittsburgh is losing members. Of course there are many, many good clergy and lay people in the faith, but the actions of a few can poison the well of dialogue for others. The Diocese needs to clear this situation up, by seeing that the church is sold to the preservationists for a nominal fee, and by ensuring that the religious objects are placed back inside the oldest Croatian church in America.