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Email At Center Of Gay Couple's House Sale Dispute With Church05:23

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Oakhurst, a property in Northbridge owned by the Catholic Diocese of Worcester (David Boeri/WBUR)
Oakhurst, a property in Northbridge owned by the Catholic Diocese of Worcester (David Boeri/WBUR)

An email written by a monsignor has triggered the filing of a discrimination suit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester by two gay developers.

The men allege that the diocese rejected their bid to purchase a church-owned mansion because of the possibility the hotel the men planned to develop would host gay marriages.

'The Dance Partner Left The Room'

"We were in the middle of negotiating. You negotiate, there's a bit of a dance that goes on," said developer Alain Beret, who on Monday was with his business partner and husband James Fairbanks outside Worcester Superior Court, where they'd just filed suit.

Beret was talking about the sudden crash that took place in their seemingly pleasant talks with the diocese about buying a 44-room mansion.

"We never got to the dance because the dance partner left the room," he said.

Alain Beret, left, and James Fairbanks, filed suit against the Worcester diocese over the Oakhurst property. (David Boeri/WBUR)
Alain Beret, left, and James Fairbanks, filed suit against the Worcester diocese over the Oakhurst property. (David Boeri/WBUR)

The dance partner was the Worcester diocese and why it left the room, why its broker suddenly told Beret and Fairbanks it wasn't interested in dealing, is the center of the simmering dispute.

"They must have assumed, or were told, that we were gay and therefore we would be gay magnets," Beret said.

Gavin Reardon, the attorney for the diocese, denies this. "We never asked their sexual orientation and never knew it," he said.

But in a sensational act of inadvertence, when the broker for the diocese emailed the would-be buyers that there would be no deal, she attached an internal email she'd received from Monsignor Thomas Sullivan.

"When I read the monsignor's email, and he said because of the potential of gay marriages there, we no longer want to continue with those buyers," Beret said.

Actually, the monsignor said even more. Here's a transcript of the email:


I just [w]ent down the hall and discussed it with the bishop. Because of the potentiality of gay marriages there, something you shared with us yesterday, we aren't interested in going forward with these buyers. I think they're shaky anyway. So just tell them that we will not accept their revised plan and the Diocese is making new plans for the property. You find the language.

Msgr Tom

And here's a transcript of what the diocese's broker then sent to the couple's agent:

Good morning Gary;

We would like to thank you and your buyers for submitting a new revised counter offer. After careful review and consideration, the seller has decided to not accept the new revised counter offer and pursue other plans with the property at this time. Best wishes to you and your buyers.

My best,
LiSandra Rodriguez-Pagan

"We did talk about weddings, but never gay weddings," Beret said. "It was not even in our heads at the time. We're thinking in terms of weddings and probably the more traditional, how do you maximize your business."

Back to the diocese, where the very public figure of Monsignor Sullivan made his last statement Sunday before his lawyer took over Monday. Sullivan said his email was taken out of context. In any case, the developers, he added, didn't have the money to buy the property.

"The Diocese of Worcester views this simply as a failed real estate transaction where the buyers could not come up with the necessary money to purchase the property," Reardon said.

"Well I would ask the monsignor to read his email," Beret responded, when I told him the attorney's statement.

Columnist Dianne Williamson, who broke the story for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, says she heard the same thing in July from the monsignor before his email became public.

"It didn't seem like financing was a big issue at all," Williamson said. "I don't think it could be clearer. He did mention 'I think they're shaky anyway.' But that seems like a, 'By the way, I think they're shaky anyway.' "

The other partner, Fairbanks, insists their finances were sound.

"We were shocked," he said, "we were just shocked."

The two men accuse the diocese of discrimination, based on sexual orientation. In response, attorney Reardon has put down this line of defense, linked to the First Amendment:

"The legal question is: Do we have the right to refuse to sell the property for a use that we don't approve of, that the diocese would not approve of?"

That "use" would be gay marriage, a position this diocese has been particularly aggressive in opposing. It even called for nearby Anna Maria College to rescind this year's commencement speaker invitation to Victoria Kennedy because of her support for gay marriage.

The House Of Affirmation

Fairbanks and Beret, who once studied for the priesthood, stood Monday in front of the old, worn mansion they wanted to buy. It's in Whitinsville and it's called Oakhurst. Under its former name, the House of Affirmation, it has another, darker story, associated with pedophile priests.

"There's a lot of shame attached to that building as a result of the church," said David Lewcon, the son of a man who was employed in the house. Lewcon was victimized by one of those pedophiles. He reached a six-figure settlement with the church.

The House of Affirmation closed as a result of financial scandal amid reports of a sex ring involving the priest who was running it.

Years later, Monsignor Sullivan has said "we wouldn't sell our churches and properties" to things that "reflect badly on the church."

"These buildings," he said "are sacred to the memory of Catholics."

This post was updated with the Morning Edition feature version.

This article was originally published on September 10, 2012.

This program aired on September 10, 2012.

David Boeri Twitter Senior Reporter
Now retired, David Boeri was a senior reporter at WBUR.


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