All sacred objects and holy relics have been removed from St. Laurentius Church in Fishtown, which former parishioners are still fighting to reopen, confirmed officials from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
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"The Archdiocese gave us the death sentence and now they're going to execute us before the appeals process goes through," said A.J. Thomson, a member of the Save St. Laurentius committee.
Thomson also questioned the timing of the relics' removal — days before a planned fundraiser for the parish school this weekend.
"Why did they choose to do this this week? ... Does this even pass the smell test for reality?" he asked.
However, the Archdiocese said the removal was not improper and that the relics will be stored safely.
"There has been no violation of canon law in this matter as some have claimed. There was a very real potential for the items to be damaged or possibly stolen," Archdiocese spokesman Ken Gavin said in an email.
An appeal to the Vatican of the parish's deconsecration, filed on behalf of the aggrieved parishioners, is still pending, said canon law attorney Sister Kate Kuenstler.
"I don't know why he [Archbishop Chaput] did it," Kuenstler said of the relics' removal. "Obviously he doesn't understand that it is hurtful to people."
The appeal is awaiting a response from the Vatican. But Kuenstler said historically, there are cases where parishes have been reopened and had their relics returned.
The relics are not in danger, officials said.
"All of the items removed from St. Laurentius have been documented and are in storage for safe keeping," said Ed Rafferty, coordinator of the Ecclesiastical Exchange of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. "Nothing is for sale."
St. Laurentius, the oldest Polish Catholic church in Philadelphia, was built in 1882.
Archdiocese estimates say full repair of St. Laurentius would cost $3.5 million. Demolition would cost $1 million.
St. Laurentius merged with Holy Name Parish in July 2013, and was officially deconsecrated on Oct. 1.