The Catholic League has jumped into the fracas between the Buffalo Common Council and the Diocese of Buffalo.
A day after the Council approved a resolution saying the closing of city churches appears to have "the whiff of 'ethnic cleansing,' " the nation's largest Catholic civil rights group attacked the Council.
The League said the Council's resolution is "one of the most egregious examples of Catholic bashing ever to be voiced by a government entity in the U.S."
Catholic League President Bill Donohue threatened a lawsuit against the Council, calling its language "inflammatory and patently bigoted" and accused the lawmaking body of hate speech.
The resolution was drafted by Council President David A. Franczyk, a Catholic who has clashed with diocesan officials over past church closings.
In a statement, Bishop Edward U. Kmiec also called the resolution "appalling, irresponsible and misinformed."
Donohue, who is based in New York City, said the Council "has no business sticking its nose into the internal affairs of the Catholic Church."
Franczyk stood by the resolution and explained that the phrase "ethnic cleansing" referred to the diocese's bureaucratic and administrative decisions to eradicate for all time urban, ethnic parishes.
"I want to keep Catholic churches open. How is that anti-Catholic bigotry?" Franczyk said.
He also objected to Donohue's characterization of Council members as tyrants who should stay out of church affairs.
"We have a First Amendment right to speak up on any issue that affects, positively or negatively, the City of Buffalo," he said.
The Council's measure opposed the sale of church properties to unsuitable buyers and to anyone who plans on gutting or stripping the buildings and leaving behind "dangerous, gutted eyesores."