A Rhode Island man has filed a federal lawsuit against Pope Francis and others, claiming the frequent bell-ringing of the Catholic church across the street has disrupted his life so much, it helped precipitate the demise of his marriage.
John Devaney, 64, of Narragansett, R.I., lives directly across from the picturesque St. Thomas More Catholic Church.
“The bells have been going off 700 times a week, very loud volume, and it’s been going on for too long,” he told the Providence Journal in a videotaped interview. “I’m not getting any response back from the people that control the bell-ringing.”
“First of all, the bells are amplified and they’re broadcast on loudspeakers,” Devaney explained.
“We live in a historic neighborhood. I think we should get back to removing the amplifiers and the loudspeakers. And then I think they should bring the bells back to a reasonable number and a reasonable time. Right now it’s at 8:45 [a.m.], and 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock during the week, and it’s more on weekends. It’s just a lot for a small neighborhood. I’ve complained to everybody and now I’m complaining to the court. I’m hoping that they can help me. It’s a lot to go through every day.”
The suit says Devaney is merely looking to "peacefully enjoy" his property.
When he and his now ex-wife purchased his the 1885 clapboard house – the former parish rectory – 18 years ago, the bell did not work.
The suit says about six years later, a new church administrator came in and upgraded the bell to operate electronically.
With more than 36,000 gongs throughout the year, Devaney, who often wears earplugs, claims the noise represents a permanent trespass, interrupting his dreams, thoughts and family relationships.
The end result for Devaney, according to the lawsuit, is arguments, bad moods and emotional distance.
The church offered the Journal a statement through the Catholic Diocese of Providence, explaining the bell was restored years ago courtesy of a parishioner's generosity.
"So many in the community have enjoyed hearing the bell for more than 10 years for but minutes a day. The parish believes the brief ringing of the bell is reasonable and well within its rights," the statement says.
"The parish community is saddened that a sole individual would continue personal, inappropriate attacks harassing visitors, worshippers and staff of St. Thomas More Parish. As a community of faith, we will pray for peace and understanding and that all our neighbors know of our charity and concern."
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, Diocese of Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., and Pope Francis.
Devaney is challenging the constitutionality of a state law that says "a governmental authority may not restrict a person's free exercise of religion." He wants it declared "null and void" and looks to bar Kilmartin from enforcing it.
The Journal reports Devaney is also taking on the bells at St. Peters by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, which chime around the corner from his home. He names Linda O'Neill, its administrator, as a defendant as well.
Devaney is acting as his own lawyer, and claims state law denies protections afforded him under the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, precluding the "peaceful enjoyment of his property."
He wants the court to order Narragansett to enforce its noise ordinances, as well as the churches to lower the number and volume of chimes.
Devaney seeks unspecified monetary damages for the disruption of his life "these past number of years, day in, day out, day in, day out" caused by the bells.
The ringing of church bells has caused some serious problems in the past.
As WND reported in May 2010, a state court in Arizona reversed the conviction of Phoenix Bishop Rick Painter, who had actually been sentenced to jail and probation for the sounds his church bells made.
"Pastors and churches shouldn't live in fear of being punished or penalized by the government," said Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund. "Certainly, no pastor should have to fear jail time for engaging in peaceful religious expression."
Painter had been convicted and sentenced to jail for ringing the bells at Christ the King Liturgical Charismatic Church.
But the conviction was reversed in an order from Judge Crane McClennen, who noted that the law on which the conviction was based has since been ruled unconstitutional.