FFRF helps save Tucson taxpayers $1.1 million

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has received word that the Tucson City Council has permanently suspended its decision to grant $1.1 million to the Catholic Diocese of Tucson to repair the Church’s Marist Building.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel had written an Aug. 7 letter to Mayor Rothschild of Tucson, warning that it was unwise policy for the city to offer $1.1 million to repair a religious building it does not own.

“If you truly believe the best policy is to repair the Marist building then the diocese should sign the building and property over to you free and clear. Alternatively, given the neglect the diocese has shown for a piece of Tucson history, consider seizing the property through eminent domain. Title should not remain with the diocese if the taxpayers are paying $1.1 million.”

Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik, who was one of two council members to vote against the original funding scheme, noted at the time: “The Catholic Church has neglected it for a decade. If they were serious about this building, they could cancel one of their pro-life ad blitzes and pay for it in a heartbeat.”

Seidel echoed this point in his letter to the Mayor: “The diocese is perfectly willing to spend money to restore its other property. Last year, the church spent $75,000 to restore a crucifix.” He pointed out the diocese just spent $1.1 million raised in the ‘Treasures of the Heart campaign’ to restore St. Augustine Cathedral next door to the Marist building.

According to a Sept.11, 2012, memo by City Manager Richard Miranda, “the diocese of Tucson has informed city staff that they wish to retain ownership of the Marist College so that it can be used by them and the local parish.” Miranda explained that because of the diocese’s position, the grant “can not be accommodated” and the city will “take no further action regarding a potential agreement for the use of [grant] funds for the stabilization of the Marist College.” The city has already begun allocating the grant funds for other projects including road and water tower repairs.  

“This is a major victory for taxpayers and for the constitutional principle of separation between state and church,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It pays to complain, or rather in this case, our complaint stops an unconstitutional payment.”

In a recent exposé, The Economist estimated that the Catholic Church in America spent “around $170 billion in 2010 . . . For purposes of secular comparison, in 2010 General Electric’s revenue was $150 billion.” (This same article estimated that “sexual-abuse cases have cost the American church more than $3 billion so far.”)

Seidel’s letter reviewed details on the diocese’s healthy finances despite bankruptcy after payouts for more than 100 credible allegations of sexual misconduct with minors involving 26 priests.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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