Bolivar church set for demolition after judge dismisses lawsuit

John Suayan, Galveston Bureau Dec. 1, 2009, 5:53am

Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church on the Bolivar Peninsula prior to Hurricane Ike

GALVESTON – A state district court judge has dismissed a lawsuit intended to stop the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston from demolishing the Bolivar Peninsula's only remaining Catholic church.

Galveston County 122nd District Court John Ellisor on Nov. 24 ruled in favor of the archdiocese, allowing it to proceed with tearing down Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church in Port Bolivar.

Judge Ellisor's ruling is based on the defendant's argument that the continuation of the litigation would hamper the internal affairs of the church.

The decision ends a year-long tug-of-war between Our Mother of Mercy's parishioners and the archdiocese, which began in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.

The 50-year-old house of worship was one of the few structures on Port Bolivar that sustained minimal damage from Ike's assault on Southeast Texas on Sept. 13, 2008.

Its attendees, who number 200 families, argued that the little church should remain standing since it had a long history and remained mostly intact after the Category 2 storm wiped out most of the structures on the peninsula.

Fearful the absence of the church would force them to travel to much farther places to attend Mass, the parishioners obtained a temporary restraining order on June 8 which prevented an encounter with the wrecking ball.

The archdiocese countered by acquiring a change of venue request to have the case heard by a federal judge in Houston.

The suit would return to the state level after U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon on July 21 deemed it was not a First Amendment issue.

By junking the case, Judge Ellisor rendered the plaintiff's restraining order all but inactive.

Galveston attorney Chris Bertini, who represented the churchgoers, decried the move to The Houston Chronicle as "one of those cases where Goliath beat David."

He told The Galveston County Daily News that his clients retained the right to appeal the ruling albeit the decision is not clear.

An archdiocese spokesperson says the defendant recognizes the sadness felt among Our Mother of Mercy's parishioners, but insists the demolition is essential to building up Holy Family Parish, the new faith community established to serve Galveston and Bolivar.

Our Mother of Mercy is expected to be knocked down before Dec. 31.

A new church and community center will be built in nearby Crystal Beach, according to the archdiocese.

State Case No. 09CV0916
Federal Case No. H-09-1875

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