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Council panel disowns 'ethnic cleansing' claim

A Common Council committee tried to quell a controversy Tuesday when it recommended shelving a resolution that suggests the planned closing of some Catholic churches in Buffalo has the "whiff of ethnic cleansing."

The full Council already approved part of the bill a week ago. Since then, most lawmakers have gone on record stating they disagree with a preamble to the bill that makes reference to ethnic cleansing.

Following a Legislation Committee meeting Tuesday, lawmakers said their sole objective is to make sure the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo has a plan for reusing vacant buildings. They passed a measure last Wednesday that asks the diocese to give assurances that it won't quickly "dump" properties on unsuitable buyers. Diocesan officials have promised that steps will be taken to make sure the properties are put to productive uses.

"The Common Council is equally opposed to the sale of these buildings to parties intent on gutting or stripping these buildings of anything of value, leaving behind dangerous, gutted eyesores," the measure states.

Council President David A. Franczyk drafted the resolution that was co-sponsored by North Council Member Joseph Golombek and Majority Leader Dominic J. Bonifacio, who represents the Niagara District.

But Bonifacio said Tuesday his support for the resolution does not include an endorsement of Franczyk's claim that the church closings have the appearance of ethnic cleansing.

Council President Pro Tempore Bonnie E. Russell, of the University District, said she regrets the way the situation was handled.

"As a member of the leadership, I feel an obligation to apologize to anyone who felt insulted or disrespected by the language that was used in the recent church closing resolution," she said.

Some Council members are scheduled to meet next week with diocesan officials to discuss issues surrounding the planned closings.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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