The Deacon's Bench

The people who have settled in at the Catholic town of Ave Maria in Florida are facing a curious contradiction. They don’t have, officially, a parish:

For four years, the idea of a parish in Ave Maria has been on the table for the town that is attracting Catholics from all over the country since it opened this summer, anchored by a university in the Catholic tradition.

Parishes are the most fundamental unit that connects individual Catholics to the official church hierarchy. The sacraments of baptism and marriage are performed inside churches, which are the spiritual centers of parishes.

At the physical center of Ave Maria stands a 100-foot-tall, $24 million structure planned to be a Catholic place of prayer. Ave Maria University officials requested that local Bishop Frank Dewane of the Diocese of Venice dedicate the building as a sacred place six weeks ago.

Decisions about the creation of parishes also fall under Dewane’s jurisdiction.

Diocese officials have said that should Ave Maria become a parish, the structure at the town’s center could become its parish church.

Negotiations between the diocese and university are continuing with both sides declining to discuss specifics. What has emerged are disagreements over a number of official matters, related or otherwise, in Catholic church law, called canon law.

University leaders presumed some canonical statuses in the church, even though the diocese said it never gave them that authority.

There also are indications that the university might no longer want the town center structure to become a parish church, and instead become an “oratory,” a place of prayer open for public worship but dedicated, in this case, only to the university community.

These delays have led some town residents to wonder about their place in the church.

“We’re looking for a parish,” said Jim Carletta, a 38-year-old living with his wife and four children in Ave Maria. “That’s the frustrating part. We have a five-year-old that’s getting ready for communion and we’re concerned. We’re kind of in a limbo period.”

“It’s a big deal with the residents right now,” Carletta added. “It’s getting to the point where people are pretty upset about it and there’s talk of it boiling over.”

It strikes me as odd that this issue wasn’t settled years ago, before the first spadeful of dirt was turned and construction begun. You can read more, though, at the link, to find out some of the background.

Photos of Ave Maria Oratory: by Michele Le, Naples Daily News

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