Omaha Parishioners To Continue Fight for Church

OMAHA (KPTM)-From the church doors to the court house, one parish is still fighting to keep its church, even after a judge ruled last week, it doesn't belong to them.

"Probably as much as a decade or more, the people of Saint Barnabas have gradually withdrawn from the regular life of the diocese of Nebraska," said Episcopal Bishop of Nebraska, Scott Barker.

Five years ago in September, parishioners voted almost unanimously to leave the Episcopal Archdiocese due to disagreements with the church's decisions. Saint Barnabas is currently in the process of joining the Catholic Church. However, parishioners said they have hit some roadblocks after being sued by the archdiocese for the church property.

"Property has been taken away from an entity here that was never in court," said John Chatelain.

Last week, a judge ruled that St. Barnabas belongs to the Episcopal Archdiocese of Nebraska. That means, since the church no long associates itself with Episcopalian beliefs and practices, the church keys-and everything inside-belong to the archdiocese.

"Not only has the plaintiff sued the wrong people, but they have failed to sue the person of the entity that owns the property," said Chatelain, the attorney for St. Barnabas.

The Archdiocese filed a lawsuit against seven defendants three years ago. At the time, a little over half were part of the governing body of St. Barnabas. Now, Chatelain said, none of them are church officials.

"Parish corporation has never been named as a defendant-and the property has always been held by the 'wardens and vestry' of the Church," said Chatelain.

That's one of the many reasons why Chatelain said he plans to appeal the ruling.

Chatelain said the judge used two Nebraska laws to make his decision, but the laws do not apply to the situation at St. Barnabas.

The first law says the archdiocese can take over the church if it ceases to exist. (LB 21-2801). Chatelain said-Mass is held regularly at St. Barnabas, so that doesn't apply.

The second law says there has to be proof that the archdiocese helped pay for the church, whether that's buying the property or building.(LB-21-2803) "There is no evidence what so ever that the diocese actually assisted in the acquisition of the property," said Chatelain.

Episcopal Church official said, they plan to go forward with negations. "I imagine that' we'll try to sort it out in a really proactive and faith filled way to use this beautiful resource," said Barker.