Church sale moving forward
By ALBERT McKEON, Telegraph Staff
[email protected]

Nashua Telegraph, NH
Feb 17 2005

NASHUA - A Superior Court judge has rejected another attempt to block
the sale of St. Francis Xavier Church.

Meanwhile, a local real estate developer who intends to buy the
property and donate it to his Armenian Orthodox faith is about to meet
with his spiritual leader in Jerusalem with the hopes of finalizing
the deal, his attorney said.

Objectors to the proposed sale of the century-old Catholic church
had a lawsuit dismissed last month, but immediately filed an appeal.
Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge William Groff on Monday
threw out the appeal, ruling that the protesters offered no legal
backing in their latest request.

Bishop John McCormack, leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of
Manchester, has the authority to sell the church, Groff wrote in his
order. McCormack, who oversees the church property through a statutory
trust, is following the law in selling the church to another religious
denomination, Groff wrote.

The diocese has entered into a $1 million purchase-and-sale agreement
with developer Vatche Manoukian, who has said he wants to donate the
property to the Armenian Orthodox Church.

Manoukian is in Israel and expects to meet Archbishop Torkom Manoogian,
the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, next week, said
attorney Andrew Prolman. Manoukian hopes the archbishop will soon
approve the transaction, Prolman said.

"We finally have the right people's attention, which hadn't happened
until recently," Prolman said. "It's very encouraging that they are
more active in their decision-making."

Groff's decision is another setback to those fighting the sale. A
group comprised mostly of former parishioners and a few architectural
preservationists objected first to the church's closure in 2003,
and most recently to the transaction between the two faiths. When St.
Francis Xavier closed, it technically merged with St. Louis de Gonzague
Church, and many parishioners moved there.

Under the provisions of a statutory trust, McCormack must act in
the interest of those parishioners and forward the proceeds from a
sale to their new parish. Groff, in his dismissal order last month,
said he could not speculate whether McCormack would use the proceeds
for any other purpose, and said the diocese is to date following the
conditions of the trust.

In their appeal, Groff said the parishioners claimed state law
prohibits McCormack from selling the church, and the property must
be perpetually maintained in a trust for them. But "the parishioners
cite no law in support of this proposition," Groff wrote.

The judge pointed to an earlier probate court ruling approving the
sale, and added that even without that decision, his court has found
the bishop has the right to make the deal.

Ovide Lamontagne, an attorney for the diocese, wrote in an e-mail,
"Absent an appeal, this should conclude the litigation."

The attorney for the protesters, Randall Wilbert, could not be
immediately reached for comment.