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Diocese can’t allow landmark St. Ann’s Church to continue on its path of deterioration

Securing St. Ann’s Church, at Broadway and Emslie Street, should be a priority.

Left to continue deteriorating, residents’ safety will be compromised and any hint of revitalization of that East Side neighborhood will be slowed.

The problem has been building since 2012, when the church was closed because of declining enrollment and its deteriorating condition.

When estimates of costs to repair the church came in at $8 to $12 million, the diocese announced in August 2013 that the Neo-Gothic structure would instead be torn down. Except that plan went awry.

Appeals to the city by St. Ann supporters helped win landmark status for the church. Then Bishop Richard J. Malone tried to sell the 1886 church, but the Vatican issued a ruling forbidding the church from being demolished or used for non-religious purposes. Stymied, the diocese put a fence around the church, nearly blocking the sidewalk in some spots.

And that’s where it stands, an unacceptable blemish on the neighborhood. That has to change.

SS. Columba-Brigid Parish, which merged with St. Ann’s, now owns the church property. But it does not have the financial means to stabilize the church. Neither does the diocese, according to spokesman Kevin A. Keenan. He added that the diocese has no intention of moving the fence.

Council President Darius G. Pridgen was among those complaining about that fence. Both he and Council Member David A. Franczyk of the Fillmore District want it removed and the building secured.

Allowing the church to just deteriorate further not far from where developers are finally gaining traction in bringing neighborhoods back to life (the new restaurants and apartments in Larkinville are not far away) is wrong, and potentially dangerous.

Other old churches in the city have been repurposed and are now thriving. A successful appeal of the Vatican’s order followed by the sale of the building for redevelopment is likely the best possible future for St. Ann’s.

But the Vatican might not rescind its order, and if it does there may be no immediate demand for the building. The diocese needs to take the steps necessary to prevent further deterioration so that the unsightly fence can be removed while the future of the landmark building is sorted out.

St. Ann’s must be stabilized before it is too late.