Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church in Port Bolivar before Hurricane Ike

GALVESTON – The legal battle over the fate of the Bolivar Peninsula's remaining Catholic church is shifting from Galveston County District Court to a federal court.

A week after it was ordered to temporarily refrain from demolishing Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church in Port Bolivar, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston successfully lobbied to have the case heard by a federal judge in Houston.

The archdiocese says the state court's involvement defeats the purpose of the separation of church and state as mandated by the First Amendment, thus it requests a higher court to junk the suit.

Our Mother of Mercy, which has a membership of approximately 200 families, was one of the few structures on Port Bolivar that sustained minimal damage from Hurricane Ike's assault on Southeast Texas on Sept. 13, 2008.

The attendees claim the church's lengthy history and intact state after the Category 2 storm are reasons why the archdiocese should not tear the building down.

Fearful the absence of the 50-year-old church would force them to travel to much farther places to attend Mass, they obtained a temporary restraining order from Galveston County 122nd District Court Judge Ellisor to stop the ongoing demolition work as well as gain access to documents they believe provides them a voice on whether the house of worship should be torn down.

The motion was filed by Galveston attorney Christopher D. Bertini on behalf of parishioners Judy Shaw and John DaFonte.

The parishioners decry the change of venue, saying the move plays into the archdiocese's favor.

Judge Ellisor told the archdiocese and the parishioners on June 16 to mediate their dispute.

No date has been set for when deliberation in the federal court takes place.

Case No. 09CV0916

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