Suit charges Hispanic churches are ‘false Catholics’

Atlanta Archdiocese seeks injunction, warns of confusion

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta is suing a network of Hispanic churches across North Georgia, alleging the group falsely claims to be Roman Catholic.

The lawsuit by the archdiocese and Archbishop John Francis Donoghue, filed this week in Fulton County Superior Court, seeks an injunction prohibiting the “Mision Catolica: Capilla de la Fe” (Catholic Mission: Chapel of Faith) from representing itself as Roman Catholic.

The suit charges that the administrative head of the Hispanic churches, which it identifies as Bishop Julio Cesar Freitas, “is not an ordained priest of the Roman Catholic Church and is not authorized in any way to act on behalf of the Archdiocese.”

The lawsuit also claims 10 “John Doe” defendants associated with the Chapel of Faith are “not ordained priests of the Roman Catholic Church.”

Neither Freitas or other members of the Chapel of Faith could be reached for comment Friday.

Attorney David Brown, who filed the suit on behalf of the archdiocese, also could not be reached for comment.

The archbishop recently sent a letter to Roman Catholic churches with Hispanic congregations warning about the Chapel of Faith, according to The Associated Press.

“They give the impression that they are loyal Catholics and in communion with the Catholic Church,” Donoghue wrote in the letter. “For months now, this group has been creating confusion in the Hispanic community by pretending to be in communion with the Church . . . many of our good Hispanic people are confused by their pretense and they are leading many away from the Catholic Church.”

The lawsuit contends Chapel of Faith clergy are falsely holding themselves out to be conducting Masses and religious ceremonies sanctioned by the arch- diocese.

“The defendants are intentionally or recklessly misleading members of the general public to imply or create the false impression” that the religious ceremonies are sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church, the suit said.

The defendants are “directing their efforts in particular towards the Hispanic population, which is predominantly Roman Catholic,” the suit said. They also are soliciting gifts and contributions from the public by “fraudulent misrepresentations,” the suit added.

The defendants promised the Atlanta Archdiocese’s attorneys that they would stop using the name “Mision Catolica” but have continued to “engage in intentionally deceptive representations and practices,” including taking confessions, offering communion and other services performed by ordained Roman Catholic priests, the suit adds.

The suit further contends that in a “widely read publication” circulated among metro Atlanta’s Hispanics, the defendants answer the question, “Are you . . . part of the Roman Catholic Church?” with “Yes, we are. We are part of the Charismatic Catholic Church.” The archdiocese lawsuit charges the Charismatic Catholic Church is not associated with or authorized by the Roman Catholic Church.

The suit also contends that the defendants are in violation of Georgia’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act by “misleading or confusing” the general public.

The network of nine churches operates throughout North Georgia, the lawsuit contends, though it named only one address, at 205 Peachtree St. in Atlanta.

Several people at the location Friday, however, said the building across the street from the former downtown Macy’s is occupied by the Stop Suffering Center, a storefront church. Posters in the windows and literature available inside offer miracle healing, prayers for financial matters, release from demon possession and singles meetings. A sermon was blasting loudly from a TV in the doorway Friday evening.

Two attendants inside the empty sanctuary at Stop Suffering Center identified the church as nondenominational and referred other questions to a bishop in Norcross.

There were no signs of Chapel of Faith in the building off Singleton Road in Gwinnett County. The building was identified in the Georgia Bulletin, the archdiocese newspaper, as the headquarters of the Hispanic network of churches.

The brick church near Jimmy Carter Boulevard is now occupied by a separate church called Pare de Sufrir (Stop Suffering).

Francisco Couto, a bishop with Pare de Sufrir, said his Christian church moved in two months ago and has absolutely no links to the Chapel of Faith. “We’re not Catholic,” Couto said.

Pedro Campos, a Stone Mountain resident folding clothes at a laundromat near Couto’s church, said he went to Mass three or four times at the location when it was the Chapel of Faith last year while he lived in Norcross.

The self-described Catholic was surprised to hear of accusations that priests leading Spanish language Mass weren’t ordained by the Roman Catholic Church.

“It appeared normal,” Campos said. “It appeared Catholic.”

Staff writers Brian Feagans and Milo Ippolito contributed to this article.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, USA
Sep. 20, 2003
Bill Montgomery

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday September 22, 2003.
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