Settlement Reached In Papal Shrine Lawsuit In Colorado (May 1998)

The United States District Court in Denver has approved a settlement in Wells v Lochhead, the Foundation’s lawsuit involving the shrine built to commemorate the Mass said by Pope John Paul II during his 1993 appearance in Cherry Creek State Park outside Denver.

The State of Colorado Department of Natural Resources agreed to delete the following religious phrases from plaques placed in a gazebo-like memorial structure in the park:

“. . . the soul rises spontaneously to sing the praise of the Creator.”
“O Lord, our Lord, how glorious is your name all over the earth (Psalm 8:21)”
references to “pilgrims” and “spiritual renewal”
omission of the Catholic World Youth Day theme–“I came so that they might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10)”
Although the Pope in full regalia still is pictured on a plaque, an image of a boy praying was deleted, as well as a picture of the pope blessing a Native American. A photo of a Christian cross on an altar was deleted, and a picture of a woman holding a child was modified so it does not invoke the madonna/child image.

Commented Attorney Robert R. Tiernan: “We object to the holding of religious ceremonies on public property, but that was a battle that was lost 25 years ago when the Pope was allowed to say Mass on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Some day the courts will come to see the error in this and that decision will be reversed.

“Given the present state of the law, however, we could not sustain an objection to the saying of Mass at Cherry Creek State Park nor a display commemorating this as an ‘historical’ event.”

Although the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver was the official host for Catholic World Youth Day, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources was ultimately responsible for the religious memorial.

“The Department actually tries to imply that those tens of thousands of Catholics who trampled the 120-acre site really did the park a favor because of the reclamation efforts that followed,” Gaylor pointed out. “Interestingly, the plaques refer to ‘a half-million’ participants; fortunately for the prairie the Denver Post counted 186,000.”

An all-night prayer vigil preceded the Sunday Mass, adding to the damage to the native prairie.

“Of course, we still believe there never should have been a prayer vigil, a Mass, or a shrine or memorial in this publicly-owned park,” Gaylor said. “But the Mass was temporary. Unhappily, the memorial is permanent. However, the removal of religious language makes it less shrine-like.

“We are very grateful to Julie Wells, as a regular user of the park, for becoming a plaintiff, and to chapter coordinator Jeff Baysinger and our Denver, Colorado chapter for joining in. And we applaud attorney Robert Tiernan’s hard work. Even a partial victory in an Establishment case these days is a true cause for celebration.”

The State agreed to add the Denver, Colorado chapter to the official mailing list of the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation with copies of agendas for meetings, giving chapter members the opportunity to monitor for further violations.

Freedom From Religion Foundation