Volume 78 / Number 2 - June 11 - 17, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since


Villager photo by Q. Sakamaki

Father Frank Morales leading a 9/11 Truth meeting at St. Mark’s Church two years ago.

Morales eyes top spot at St. Mark’s-in-Bowery

By Mary Reinholz

St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, the E. 10th St. religious icon known for its embrace of the arts and cutting-edge politics, has been missing a priest in charge since April when the Reverend John Denaro left after a year as a part-time interim pastor, citing additional responsibilities in his other work at the Episcopal Church Center in Midtown.

“I’m basically now a full-time employee, and I decided to make way for a new pastor,” Denaro said in a telephone interview, adding he gave notice when his contract at St. Mark’s was coming up for renewal.

Denaro, who had succeeded the Reverend Julio Torres as pastor, said his experience at St. Mark’s was “one of the best” he has had heading a parish as a gay priest, but noted: “The church needs someone who will be there more than one day a week and on Sunday.”

One of the people eyeing the top slot is The Reverend Frank Morales, an associate pastor, who has not been a day-to-day presence at St. Mark’s since January, when he left to concentrate on his writing and varied projects. The goateed, hipster priest attended a recent Sunday service garbed in blue jeans and a black shirt. He later passed out pamphlets for a new group he helped found, the NYC 9/11 Ballot Initiative campaign, which is seeking to gather 30,000 petition signatures from New Yorkers to present to the Board of Elections next month. Its goal is to offer voters in this November’s election a chance to cast ballots for “a new and independent investigation” into the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center.

Morales, 59, a leader in New York’s conspiracy-minded 9/11 Truth movement, said he was interested in the interim pastor job, but claimed he had not yet been interviewed by the church’s vestry, a board of trustees consisting of 11 elected officials who are currently considering applicants.

“Put in a word for me,” he told a reporter with a grin. Asked what he would do if he gets the appointment, Morales, smiling, said he would “try to create a heaven on earth, minus the Bush administration.”

Cynthia R. Copeland, who heads the church’s vestry and noted it had seen a “couple of candidates,” said Morales had not approached the group with a formal résumé, adding that he and others “are invited” to submit their qualifications for the interim pastor job. “Frank has given us a yes and a no” to suggestions he apply,” she said on Sunday. “It’s a big job.” Morales has long been involved in hot-button causes at the church since the 1970s. Copeland said activism and radical politics would not be an issue in the selection of a pastor, “since we are known as an activist church.”

She said the vestry would probably name a successor to Denaro in September — after receiving the “blessing” of its choice from the Episcopal Diocese of New York. Reverend Michael Relyea, another associate pastor at St. Mark’s, said he was not a candidate because he holds a full-time job with the city as an investigator for the Department of Finance, which, he noted, “might pose a conflict of interest.”

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