In September, 2008 the New York Court of Appeals was scheduled to hear oral argument on the issue of whether the Archdiocese of New York could demolish historic St. Brigid Church without the permission of the parishioners. The parishioners claimed that Section 5 of the Religious Corporation Law required their permission before the chief asset of a religious corporation could be used for a purpose other than the support and maintenance of the corporation.
The Archdiocese argued that the hierarchical nature of the Roman Catholic Church exempted it from that stricture. The parishioners responded that the Archdiocese waived any such special treatment when it elected to incorporate St. Brigid and many other parishes under the Religious Corporation Law; it could not claim the benefit of corporate status (such as limited liability) without abiding by its requirements.
On May 19, 2008, before the case was to be heard, the Archdiocese announced that an anonymous donor had come forward with $20 million to restore and reopen St. Brigid. The appeal became moot and this important legal issue was not decided by New York’s highest court.
On November 15, 2011, however, the Court of Appeals will hear argument on the same legal issues in a case involving Our Lady of Vilna Church in lower Manhattan, built by Lithuanian immigrants in the early twentieth century. The outcome of the case will determine the fate of this and other churches among the hundreds of incorporated parishes in New York.
I will be arguing on behalf of the parishioners. Peter Johnson, Jr. will appear for the Archdiocese.