Two Catholic churches in Williamsburg are at the center of a heated political dispute between North Brooklyn political rivals, leaving many parishioners addled and bewildered.
On Sunday, June 28, volunteers for Councilmember Diana Reyna (D−Williamsburg), who is currently seeking re−election for her Council seat in the 34th District, distributed a letter to parishioners of several Southside churches after Sunday morning mass concluded. The flyer, signed by both Reyna and Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D−Brooklyn), stated that Williamsburg is at a crossroads and criticized local religious leaders for becoming “embroiled” in political issues surrounding the rezoning of the Broadway Triangle.
“We, like you, respect our pastors, but when church leaders give the perception that they are strongly influenced by a political leader or agenda, they lose sight of their mission and the needs of their parishioners,” said the letter.
Reyna campaign volunteers said they gave out the letter in response to a call from pastors urging parishioners to attend a June 24 rally in front of Brooklyn Assemblymember Vito Lopez’s (D−Williamsburg) district office. Lopez held the event to demonstrate widespread community support for his statute of limitations bill, which is currently languishing in the State Assembly.
Pastors Father Rick Beuther of Saints Peter and Paul Church (71 S. 3rd Street) and Father Anthony Hernandez of Transfiguration Church (263 Marcy Ave) attended that rally with dozens of parishioners and Catholic youth leaders.
“There are issues in the Markey legislation that would not be considered, as it was previously drafted. Unfortunately we’re caught up in this political bantering,” said Hernandez, who is also an attorney representing the Brooklyn Diocese.
Reyna agreed that there has been too much political bickering, but places the blame with Lopez and local pastors. This year, Lopez refused to endorse Reyna for a third term, instead backing Bushwick resident and housing organizer Maritza Davila.
Reyna claims that Pastors Hernandez and Beuther told parishioners that she did not support the Church, but that they did not clarify which issue she did not support or whether they meant the church itself. Father Beuther did not return several calls asking for comment and Lopez declined to give a statement on the matter. A spokesperson with the Brooklyn Diocese also declined to comment.
“[Father Beuther] said,‘Don’t trust Diana Reyna,” said Sylvia Solano, a parishioner at Saints Peter and Paul. “Why would he say beautiful things about supporting Diana and Nydia one year ago? A lot of people are confused.”
Reyna herself attended mass Sunday morning at Transfiguration Church (263 Marcy Ave) and Saints Peter and Paul Church (71 S 3rd Street), taking communion from both pastors.
“Father Beuther couldn’t even look me in the eye during communion,” said Reyna. “He looked down at his feet.”
On the one−year anniversary of the passing of the beloved former Pastor Monsignor Augustin Ruiz, parishioners prepared to board buses taking them to his memorial service with Reyna’s flyers in hand. Many remained torn over the political strife, which has seeped through the walls of Williamsburg’s Catholic parishes. Gloria Ruiz, a Williamsburg resident since 1959, said she supported both Diana Reyna and Vito Lopez, but did not know what issues had led to the release of the letter.
“Vito does more for this community than the ones assigned to this district,” said Ruiz. “If you have a problem in this community, Vito can help you.”
Monsignor Joseph Calise, pastor of Mount Carmel Church, strongly criticized Reyna volunteers for their flyering before a memorial service for the late Monsignor Ruiz.