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Philadelphia parishioners suspicious of sudden church closing

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4/02/2014- Saint Laurentius Roman Catholic Church was slated to be closed in June 2013 but through the efforts of the parishioners it remained open. Now, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has announced that the church must be closed immediately because it is in imminent danger of collapsing.

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Spokesman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Ken Gavin, said inspections by independent engineers found a number of issues with brownstone masonry on the church's façade including large cracks and deteriorated faces. Scaffolding and netting was installed around the base of the building to protect pedestrians and parishioners, but officials say a follow-up inspection found the situation had gotten much worse due to the harsh winter. Gavin stated,

"As a result of a follow-up inspection conducted this week, structural engineers have noted that the condition of the building has greatly deteriorated because of the weather this winter and is in imminent danger of a collapse,"

However, members of the congregation say they don’t believe the archdiocese, because officials told them at a recent meeting that the 125-year-old house of worship was structurally sound.

According to parishioner, Susan Phillips,

"At no point in that meeting was the church deemed in imminent danger of collapse. As a matter of fact, it was asked several times, 'Is the church in imminent danger of collapsing?' And we were told 'No.'"

Phillips and others believe the archdiocese is closing the church under false pretenses as a way to shut down the parish’s school, which utilizes the church’s facilities, and sell the property. The neighborhood has experienced a development boom in recent years.

According to John Wisniewski, who grew up in the parish, when the archdiocese tried to close Saint Laurentius last year he tried to help save the beloved church and felt there was something else going on. Wisniewski stated,

"I am truly interested in saving this beautiful church. I have been trying for months to move forward in this regard but the archdiocese is anything but credible. I grew up in St. Laurentius and a vast number of Philadelphia Polonia [Polish] have their roots here. ...the archdiocesan decision is illogical and discriminatory."

Gavin dismissed the claims saying the safety concerns were clearly explained at Wednesday's meeting and that there were no immediate plans to close the school. Parents said the school was on a closure list in the past, but had been saved by their efforts.

Not all are against the closing, however. Patrick Drogalis, who lives nearby, believes it's better to be safe than sorry. "You see a lot of situations where they wait a little bit too long and then there's some kind of accident. So, I think it's probably a good thing to make sure that no one is in imminent danger," he said. [It is not clear if Mr. Drogalis is a parishioner of Saint Laurentius.]

As for the future of the church, officials from the archdiocese say they have yet to determine what to do about the building. However, according to Gavin, should the building be demolished, any proceeds from a land sale would go to the parish.

The archdiocese said masses will be held at Holy Name of Jesus Church at 701 E. Gaul Street for the time being.

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