Staten Island Church Reconsiders Deal to Sell Vacant Convent for Use as a MosqueBy PAUL VITELLO
Published: June 17, 2010
A plan to sell a Roman Catholic convent on Staten Island to a Muslim group for use as a mosque is faltering in the face of community opposition.
In a letter sent on Thursday to Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, the Rev. Keith Fennessy, the pastor of St. Margaret Mary Church, which owns the convent in the Midland Beach neighborhood, said he had given the deal a second look and “concluded that the contemplated sale would not serve the needs of the parish.”
Many members of the parish joined other community residents last week in loudly expressing disapproval of the sale at a heated public meeting that drew about 400 people. Many of them expressed distrust of Muslims and fears that the mosque would harbor terrorists.
Though Father Fennessy signed a contract last month to sell the vacant convent to the Muslim American Society for $750,000, he wrote in his letter, “I wish to formally withdraw my support for the sale and request that it not take place.”
The sale of any parish property must be approved by that parish’s board of trustees, which includes the pastor, two lay members of his congregation, the archdiocese’s vicar general and the archbishop.
Joseph Zwilling, the spokesman for the New York Archdiocese, said that Archbishop Dolan had taken no position on the proposed sale beyond what he wrote last week on his blog. In that post, the archbishop referred to the vehement opposition to the proposed mosque and one planned near ground zero.
“Legitimate and understandable concerns about these two endeavors have arisen, and it is good these are being aired and discussed,” he wrote, adding, “It is acceptable to ask questions about security, safety, the background and history of the groups hoping to build and buy.”
“What is not acceptable,” he concluded, “is to prejudge any group, or to let fear and bias trump the towering American (and for us Catholics, the religious) virtues of hospitality, welcome, and religious freedom.”
The Muslim American Society, a Washington-based nonprofit group that helps plant new mosques in communities throughout the country, planned to use the convent only on Fridays, as a prayer hall and a community center.
Ayman Hammous, president of the society’s Staten Island branch, said he was disappointed by the pastor’s change of heart.
“But at this point, as far as I am concerned, we still have a deal,” he said. “We are not backing off.”
Mahdi Bray, the society’s national executive director, blamed the setback more on the “meddling” of what he called anti-Muslim Web sites than on opposition of the church or its members.
“There is a lot of hostility being whipped up,” he said, referring to sites that have published unsubstantiated claims of the society’s ties to terrorism.
“But we are optimistic that the majority of Catholics uphold the rights of everyone to worship in this country,” he said.
Yasmin Ammirato, president of the Midland Beach Civic Association, which organized last week’s meeting and was officially neutral, said she was relieved that the sale now seemed to have been blocked.
Though she never agreed with opponents who said that the Muslim American Society had ties to terrorist organizations — claims never made by government authorities — she said she was worried about how the mosque would affect parking in the neighborhood on Fridays. “It would have been a nightmare.”
It has been a long and rocky road in regards to the war with Islam, but this article shows us that the country is slowly waking up. As in the UK, non-Muslims are protesting proposed Mosques and getting positive results. One thing that our politicians should be looking into, is where is the funding for all of these proposed Mosques coming from? No foreign countries should be allowed to fund houses of worship here, or influence what is taught in our universities. A country like Saudi Arabia which does not have our best interests at heart, has far too much influence in America. In order to save America as we know it things must change, and I do not mean Obama “change”.