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Foes of renovations squeeze Catholic parish's finances

Posted: Friday, September 07, 2001

PETOSKEY, Mich. (AP) -- Opponents of a $3.5 million dollar renovation of a century-old neo-Gothic church in this Lake Michigan shoreline town hope to sink the project in a sea of red ink.

St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church's financial woes have been linked to a campaign by the St. Francis Xavier Historic Preservation Guild to persuade parishioners to withhold donations.

''It's the only thing they understand,'' said Tim Ehlen, president of the group fighting the alterations. The guild says the changes would harm the quality of their worship and change the character of the church.

The Rev. Joseph Blasko and finance committee members, recently sent a letter to parishioners saying the parish reserve fund was empty.

Finance committee chairman Paul Fifer insisted there was no imminent fiscal emergency. Still, he criticized the renovation opponents.

''There's a small, vocal group of people that are blatantly trying to persecute the church and are trying to trick people into withholding their money,'' Fifer said.

The Preservation Guild says the renovations will alter the character of the church. The changes include removal of an ornate altar rail and carved wooden pulpit, removing pews and moving the pulpit forward into the congregation, and relocating the choir from a loft at the back of the church to folding chairs at the front.

The group had filed a lawsuit to stop the project, but a county judge ruled he had no jurisdiction over an internal church dispute. The guild also appealed to the Vatican, which has issued no response so far. Renovations on the church began in May.

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http://www.petoskeystfrancis.org/

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