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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 14, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 37
Gay couple sues Catholic diocese over real estate deal
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Gay couple sues Catholic diocese over real estate deal

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A Gay couple has filed suit against the Roman Catholic diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, charging church officials with discrimination in an aborted real estate transaction. The pair claim damages for loss of civil rights and dignity, and for emotional distress.

James Fairbanks and his husband, Alain Beret, were negotiating with the diocese to buy Oakhurst Mansion, a former Catholic retreat center. They planned to restore the historic house and use it as both their private residence and a venue for their special-events business.

Oakhurst, built in 1890 by the heir of a local weaving machine business, is a 30-room mansion situated on a 26-acre estate.

According to court documents, the property was listed at $1.45 million, and the diocese accepted the couples' offer to buy it for $1 million. An inspection revealed that costly repairs were needed, and the couple then made a revised offer of $550,000.

The diocese then ended negotiations in June, but not because the couple withdrew their original $1 million offer, the suit alleges. Instead, the couple's attorney says, the diocese was afraid that the pair would use the mansion to host same-sex weddings.

AN E-MAIL SMOKING GUN
According to attorney Sergio Carvajal, who represents Fairbanks and Beret, the diocese inadvertently sent them an e-mail revealing church officials' real concerns.

According to the lawsuit, Chancellor Thomas Sullivan sent an e-mail to the diocese's real estate agent on June 8, instructing him to break off negotiations with the couple. Inadvertently, he cc'd Fairbanks and Beret on it.

'I just went down the hall and discussed it with the bishop,' the e-mail read. 'Because of the potentiality of Gay marriages there, something you shared with us yesterday, we aren't interested in going forward with these buyers. I think they're shaky anyway. So just tell them that we will not accept their revised plan and the Diocese is making new plans for the property. You find the language.'

Carvajal told the Associated Press that 'the e-mail speaks for itself.'

'It is wrong and it is illegal,' he added.

The diocese said it has a policy that forbids selling church buildings once used for worship for a purpose that contravenes church teachings - hence their concern about same-sex marriage ceremonies.

'We wouldn't sell our churches and our properties to any of a number of things that would reflect badly on the Church,' Sullivan told CatholicCulture.org.

ILLEGAL DISCRIMINATION?
Carvajal said such a policy would be illegal in this case. 'They would basically be binding future people to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation,' he said.

Massachusetts law has barred discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in a number of areas, including housing and public accommodations, since 1989.

James G. Reardon, Jr., attorney for the diocese, said his clients broke off negotiations because they believed Fairbanks and Beret would not be able to find financing for the deal. Sullivan's e-mail only mentions the possibility of same-sex weddings at the site, but does not reference the couple's sexual orientation, he added.

Reardon said the diocese was unaware they are Gay because the subject never came up during negotiations. Carvajal replied that he did not believe Reardon's claim.

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