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A Tale of Two Churches

Due to a complicated series of circumstances, two groups vying for legitimate control of Laguna Beach’s St. Francis by the Sea Cathedral will now be holding separate services.

Since last November, parishioners who make up the unaffiliated American Catholic congregation of what is considered one of the world’s smallest cathedrals have been locked out of the chapel that had long been their place of worship. The chain of events leading up to this circumstance was triggered when Bishop Simon E. Talarczyk, 85, of Fountain Valley, who led the congregation for at least four decades, began to suffer from the onset of dementia, sparking a series of incidents that finally led to Talarczyk’s daughter, Honorata Ann Lee, 42, of Vista, obtaining court approval last August to serve as her father’s conservator.

“I can’t have strangers run it,” said Lee, when asked about the closure by Andrea Adelson for an article that appeared in the Indy on Jan. 6. At the time, Lee said that the church was her father’s personal property, that the church was signed over to her father in 1973, and that she is named as secretary of the corporation that controls the church.

Longtime, congregants Paul Merritt and Jessica deStefano, whose grandfather built the church, took issue with Lee’s assertion and filed legal petitions challenging the conservatorship’s claim to church assets last December. Superior Court Judge Randall Sherman denied both the parishioners’ petition and Lee’s claim to the church on Dec. 13, and another hearing on the ownership dispute was set for March 19.

In the interim, both sides have been acting to reinforce their respective positions.

Earlier this week, Lee issued an announcement that, pursuant to a meeting held at Saint Francis by the Sea on Sunday, Jan 29, an auxiliary bishop has been appointed by “by approval of Bishop Simon Eugene Talarczyk and a member of the consistory.” The appointee, Bishop Brian Delvaux, will begin services at the church at 9 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 12 and services will be held every Sunday thereafter. For more information, send an e-mail to [email protected].

Meanwhile, the congregants who have been worshiping at St. Francis for years have begun meeting every Sunday for their own services at 9 a.m. at an alternate location set up at 303 Broadway, Suite 10. And they recently issued an announcement that “while legal matters work their way through the courts, the Congregation of St. Francis By the Sea Chapel,” will hold a business meeting at 10 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 10, at 303 Broadway, Suite 107, “for the purpose of electing congregational officers and an Interim Bishop.” They stipulate that anyone who has attended the chapel will be considered to be part of the congregation. Anyone who can’t attend or would like more information should contact them by calling 949-357-0404 or e-mailing [email protected] and provide their name, phone number, e-mail address and street address.

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