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No Sanctuary at St. Mark’s

Cool priest cast out.

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For the past half-dozen years, Father Julio Torres, the lefty El Salvadoran priest at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery, has been hosting poetry readings and hip services like the Good Friday Blues. It’s enough to make you forget that it’s an Episcopal church—except that now the Episcopal bishop of New York, Mark S. Sisk, wants him out. Torres says he’s been told that his contract probably won’t be renewed when it expires on May 31. “He has no substantial reason to replace me,” says Torres, “except to make the church more responsive to the gentrification of the area— to bring in other kinds of people, not poor artists or immigrants, but more well-to-do people.” Torres adds that the church’s vestry is backing him; Sisk, through a spokesperson, says that the diocese was concerned about “serious turmoil,” including high turnover of parishoners and lay leadership and budget and audit problems. St. Mark’s has been running in the red—about $50,000 this year, mostly because of an expensive new roof—and is considering selling its air rights to pay off debts and build a community center. “That can amount to $10-to-$20 million. He may be interested in that, too,” says Torres.


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