Several Catholic parishioners in the Archdiocese of New Orleans who occupied two former churches to protest their closure were removed by police on Tuesday, with two being arrested.
The archdiocese had closed the churches as part of a parish consolidation and restructuring plan.
Protests centered upon the 152-year old St. Henry Church and the nearby Our Lady of Good Counsel Church. Following the uptown churches’ final Masses in late October, some parishioners occupied the churches in round-the-clock shifts, holding Sunday prayer services without a priest and claiming to be building steady support for their cause, the Times-Picayune reports.
Police evicted the parishioners on Tuesday. Accompanied by members of the archdiocese's property management office and lawyers from the city attorney’s office, they arrived at the churches at about 10:30 a.m.
At St. Henry, police reportedly knocked at the locked door and were allowed entry. The occupants, who included the widow of a former Police Superintendent, left peacefully.
At Our Lady of Good Counsel, police and church officials had to force entry by sawing through a side- door. Two parishioners, author Poppy Z. Brite and businessman Hunter Harris, were arrested.
Good Counsel parishioner Harold Baquet, who was also removed from the parish, had climbed out onto the church roof to try to avoid detection, the Times Picayune reports.
In a Tuesday statement, Archdiocese of New Orleans spokeswoman Sarah Comiskey commented on the incidents at the closed churches.
“It was necessary for the police to break-in to Our Lady of Good Counsel because those inside refused entrance to either archdiocesan representatives or the police. Two occupants at Our Lady of Good Counsel received a summons and two were formally arrested. At St. Henry Church, the occupants allowed representatives and police to enter. Only one parishioner received a summons. There were no arrests. In both instances, the buildings were then secured.”
“It has always been the intention of the archdiocese to bring these vigils to a peaceful conclusion,” Comiskey said, saying police involvement resulted because of the actions of protesters at the former parishes.
“This decision was made reluctantly after exploring every possible alternative, including multiple attempts to persuade the people to leave the building on their own. These initiatives are unfortunate but made necessary now to ensure the safety of the people and security of the buildings.”
Comiskey reported that parishioners had been asked to leave on Saturday. Those at St. Henry refused to leave, while at Our Lady of Good Counsel an occupying parishioner left, thus allowing officials to search and secure the building.
“It was discovered later that day that protestors had regained access to the former church building and bolts placed in doors had been removed,” she said.
Archdiocesan representatives reportedly attempted to inspect Our Lady of Good Counsel on Monday, but were refused entry and protesters barricaded the doors. Also on Monday, it was discovered that St. Henry Church occupants had locked the church doors to prevent outside entry.
“These actions forced the difficult decision to bring these occupations to a close to be made,” Comiskey stated.
“It is our hope that the Catholic community may now heal and move forward together,” the archdiocese’s statement concluded. “Our prayers are with those experiencing anger and sadness at losing their home parishes. We pray that they may find peace and a spiritual home in their new parish. As we begin the new year, we must all work to center our faith on the Eucharist and to move forward as one community in Christ.”