Document dispute over Holyoke church closing

CBS 3 Springfield (WSHM)

Jul 01, 2011 

Two documents are creating even more turmoil between members of Holyoke's Mater Dolorosa Catholic church and the Springfield Diocese. The diocese closed the parish Thursday because of reported structural damage and significant debt.
CBS 3 Springfield's Natalie Tolomeo is digging deeper and is asking tough questions after she obtained a sworn statement regarding the parish closing. The diocese questions the affidavit and some parishioners are questioning the diocese's response.
"Myself and other people have lost faith about how this situation is being handled," says Victor Anop, a lifelong member of Mater Dolorosa.  He and other parishioners say the Springfield diocese decision to close the church is based on a lie.
The official church document stated that a third-party engineer and Holyoke's former building inspector were at the Maple Street church to discuss structural damage. In the document, the diocese says the city official received the engineer's findings in a report, and agreed the structure was unsafe. However, Mater Dolorosa parishioners gave CBS 3 Springfield a sworn affidavit from the former Holyoke building inspector, saying the diocese was incorrect.
According to the affidavit, the building inspector did meet with the third-party engineer outside of the church and discussed the structure. But the affidavit goes on to say that the building inspector never received the report nor did he agree that the structure was unsafe.
Mark Dupont, spokesman for the Diocese of Springfield, was unaware of the affidavit accusing the diocese of falsehoods until CBS 3 Springfield showed him Friday afternoon. After reviewing the sworn statement, Dupont said it was incorrect and provided CBS 3 Springfield with an email as evidence to accuracy of the diocese.
According to Dupont's forwarded email, William F. LaBroad, finance officer for the diocese, emailed the former building inspector on March 30, the day the diocese says he and the third-party engineer examined the church from the sidewalk. The email states:
"Thank you for taking the time to visit Mater Dolorosa this morning. For your records, attached is a copy of the partial report of Engineering Design Associates, Inc. pertaining to the bell tower of the Church. As (Rich Wilk, the diocesan building consultant) stated, the complete report is in progress along with review of the other Catholic Churches in Holyoke."
The forwarded email CBS 3 Springfield received did not include and attachments of an assessment report. Mater Dolorosa parishioners don't believe the building inspector ever received the report. Anop says there is no proof.
"[The diocese] may have claimed it sent [the report], but there is no way they can say [the former building inspector] received it," he said.
Anop and other parish members have been asking to speak with Bishop Timothy McDonnell privately because they have many unanswered questions.  Since the last mass was held at Mater Dolorosa Thursday morning, parishioners have been holding a vigil, a peaceful protest full of prayers, in hopes that the diocese will reverse the decision to close the parish.
Parishioners have an appeal pending with the Vatican.