Fort Worth

Diocese obtains demolition permit for San Mateo Catholic Church

Five-generation family goes to last mass at San Mateo Church

Andrea Martinez is 92-years-old and one of the oldest parishioners of San Mateo Church, scheduled to close Nov. 20, 2016. Saddened by the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth's decision, Martinez attends her last mass at the church that started out in h
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Andrea Martinez is 92-years-old and one of the oldest parishioners of San Mateo Church, scheduled to close Nov. 20, 2016. Saddened by the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth's decision, Martinez attends her last mass at the church that started out in h

The Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth was issued a permit on Monday for the demolition of San Mateo Catholic Church.

Diocese spokesman Pat Svacina, however, said there are currently no plans to raze the church, which will conduct its last Mass on Sunday.

“The direction has been given to cancel the permit,” Svacina said. “That is the direction that was given earlier this week.”

The commercial razing permit was obtained by Intercon Environmental Inc. and the description of work was described as “Demo of Sanctuary Church.” If the permit is not canceled, it remains valid for 60 days.

Fort Worth businessman Fred Flores, who grew up in the church and has been involved in the fight to save San Mateo, said church members are considering options after learning about the demolition permit.

There’s an issue of trust and acting in bad faith that come into play.

Fort Worth businessman Fred Flores who grew up in the church

“It’s just a sad situation for the people of San Mateo and the diocese of Fort Worth,” Flores said. “There are questions about why they've withheld this information while we’re negotiating. There’s an issue of trust and acting in bad faith that come into play.”

San Mateo, which dates to the 1940s is located in the “El TP” neighborhood that is sandwiched between the Chisholm Trail Parkway and Interstate 30.

Once a mostly Hispanic neighborhood, where many once worked for the Texas & Pacific Railroad, it has been in a decades-long transition from residential to commercial development. Only a few small houses remain.

‘There’s no decision’

Since the announcement of San Mateo’s closing, parishioners have suggested that the diocese intended to sell the church, partially because of the financial issues at the downtown St. Patrick Cathedral. San Mateo is considered a mission of St. Patrick.

A financial report posted on the St. Patrick Cathedral website for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2016, showed a total of loans and outstanding operating bills at $2.7 million. Revenue was $174,630 less than operating expenses, the report shows.

$1,350,649 Certified value of San Mateo Catholic Church

The Tarrant Appraisal District lists the market value of San Mateo at $1,350,649.

Svacina said the diocese continues to explore its options regarding San Mateo.

“There’s no decision,” Svacina said. “The diocese always looks at what is our best alternative.”

Flores said attorneys hired by San Mateo church members had been in discussions with the diocese this week but there had been no indications of a possible demolition until flags marking utility lines appeared around the church. Svacina said those utility markers didn’t mean a demolition was imminent, just that the utilities were scheduled to be turned off after the last Mass.

‘The people must be heard’

Over the last two months, San Mateo’s members have organized protests, created a Facebook page and filed an appeal to the Vatican through the Catholic Church’s canon law. It is considered one of the oldest functioning legal systems in the Western world.

With the future of San Mateo Catholic Church in doubt, parishioners met at Arlington Heights Methodist Church to plan their opposition to the closing.

If the church buildings survive, Philip Gray, president of the Ohio-based St. Joseph Foundation and a canon law specialist, said he believes San Mateo members have a strong case to reverse the church’s closing.

In a lengthy career of appealing the closing of Catholic churches, Gray said he only knew of one instance in which a bishop demolished a church during the appeal process.

“The bishop violated the general laws of the church in the announcement of the closure of San Mateo,” Gray said. “None of those procedures were followed.”

Specifically, Gray said the diocese and the bishop must respond to church members.

The people must be heard.

Canon lawyer Philip Gray

“He never gave the people an opportunity to be heard on this — the diocese might dispute that — but the people must be heard,” Gray said.

Even though San Mateo is considered a mission by the diocese, Gray said it still has the right to appeal the church’s closing.

Praying for a ‘miracle’

Kurt Martens, a professor at The Catholic University’s Canon School of Law, said if a violation of canon law can be documented, “there is a chance that the decision of the bishop may be overturned.”

But Martens said “recourses like these often give the impression that a bishop cannot close a parish or a church. That is totally incorrect. A bishop can do that, but he has to follow the law and meet the requirements for such actions. When that is the case, the bishop absolutely has the right to proceed, and the Congregation will confirm his decree.”

The diocese doesn’t have independent confirmation that the parishioners’ appeal to the Vatican has been accepted.

“The diocese has no firsthand knowledge of anything,” Svacina said. “We only get notified when the Vatican notifies us.”

For the members of San Mateo, losing their church is almost unthinkable. They will watch the doors close after a final Mass on Sunday, then pray that the Vatican eventually overturns the Fort Worth diocese’s decision.

“I hope there’s some kind of miracle that would keep our church open,” said church member Mary Helen Perez, who has seen multiple generations of her family attend San Mateo. “All of us are praying that a miracle will happen and we’ll have our church doors open again. Maybe not now, but in the future.”

Staff writer Maria Chiu contributed to this report.

Bill Hanna: 817-390-7698, @fwhanna

Statement on closing of San Mateo

The Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth released this statement regarding San Mateo Catholic Church in September:

Fort Worth parishes that provide full and integral ministry and worship for Spanish-speaking Catholics include Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, All Saints Parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Holy Name of Jesus Parish, St. George Parish, St. Mary of the Assumption Parish, St. Paul the Apostle Parish, St. Peter the Apostle Parish, St. Rita Parish, St. Bartholomew Parish, and nearby St. John the Apostle Parish. Mass attendance at San Mateo Mission has greatly diminished over these years.

Conversations about the viability and effectiveness of St. Patrick Cathedral's mission community at San Mateo as a ministry for the Spanish-speaking community dates back to the administration of the late-Bishop Joseph Delaney, former Bishop Kevin Vann, and, currently under the administration of Bishop Michael Olson. During the last two years, Spanish-language religious education has been administered at the site of St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Therefore, after due consideration and consultation, for the greater and common good of the mission of the Diocese, with the salvation of souls in view, which is always the Church's primary concern, Masses and other sacramental ministries will no longer be provided at the current site of San Mateo Mission effective after Mass on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016.

Beginning at 2:30 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016, the first Sunday of Advent, Mass will be celebrated in Spanish at St. Patrick's Cathedral and at that time on each Sunday after that. All remaining ministries in Spanish not already provided at St. Patrick's Cathedral will be transitioned to St. Patrick's Cathedral as a full and integral part of the mission of the Cathedral parish.