By Cleve Bryan


SEA ISLE CITY, N.J. (CBS) — A historic church at the Jersey Shore is facing the wrecking ball despite efforts by thousands of parishioners who want it saved. Churchgoers at a Sea Isle City parish are doing battle with church officials in an effort to keep their century-old church building open.

“We were married here. Our children were baptized here,” Tom Henry said.

For more than 75 years, Henry has attended and served St. Joseph’s Catholic Church parish in Sea Isle. Next to the current sanctuary that was built in 2011 is the original 135-year-old church building, which is now in danger of being torn down.

This week, the Diocese of Camden issued what’s called a decree of relegation, meaning the site is no longer considered sacred and can be demolished.

Among their reasons, “St. Joseph parish does not use nor need to use the former church for divine worship because the facility of the newer St. Joesph church, located on the same campus, is adequate and accessible to all parishioners.”

“They lied to us outright that this church would stay if we paid for the new church,” Henry said. “Well, we’re paying for the new church. Now, they come back and say all bets are off.”

It’s not just a handful of people holding onto the past.

An online petition to save the historic church has nearly 2,500 signatures and parishioners raised considerable funds to do restorations.

“We all raised $2.5 million on the condition that this historic church would stay,” parishioner Mike McHale said.

Painters, plumbers and carpenters have all pledged to do repairs for free, but the priest and diocese would rather demolish the old building in favor of another new facility.

Parishioners say the rift is unhealthy for the congregation.

“There’s a lot of people that aren’t coming to this church anymore,” McHale said.

“We have a lot of people willing to give, but they don’t trust the church anymore,” Henry said, “and that’s a fundamental issue here.”

The priest was not available for comment on Friday.

Parishioners say they’ll take the fight to the Vatican if they have to.