July 23rd, 2010
03:34 PM ET
CNN's Monika Plocienniczak sent this report from New York:
A Staten Island Roman Catholic Church's board whose members include Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan backed out of a plan to sell a vacant convent to a Muslim organization on Thursday.
The Rev. Keith Fennessy, pastor of St. Margaret Mary Parish on Staten Island, New York, had changed his position on selling the parish convent and in mid-May asked Dolan in a letter not to proceed with the sale.
The church declined to comment, but Fennessy, in a statement released by the Archdiocese of New York, said that "the contemplated sale would not serve the needs of the parish."
"We cannot speak on the vote because it was a private, pastor decision," said Kate Monaghan, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese.
It is also unclear whether the archbishop was present at the meeting or cast a vote. But Monaghan would confirm to CNN only that Dolan is one of the board's five members.
As pastor, Fennessy signed a contract, subject to certain requisite approvals, to sell the property to the Muslim American Society.
The Islamic group would have used the space for a mosque, the first in the South Shore area of Staten Island, said Lana Safah, a spokeswoman for the New York chapter of the group.
Reacting to the diocese's vote, she said, "We believe that it was the result of bigoted campaigning against the Muslim community."
"Conventional wisdom," said Ibrahim Ramey, the human and civil rights director for the group in Washington, D.C., "points to the toxic atmosphere created in the community, the very obvious aversion to the property being sold to Muslim Americans and suggesting (Muslim Americans) engage in extremist activity."
Fennessy's letter expresses the hope that an amicable resolution can be reached between the church and the Muslim American Society, which is already searching for a new location in the borough.
The decision comes after a proposal to build an Islamic cultural center including a mosque near the site of the September 11 attacks in Manhattan has generated much heat and protest. While some opponents have insisted they are primarily concerned about the 152-year-old building that would be adapted for the project, others have made clear that they oppose it because it would be a Muslim facility.
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