The Providence Journal reports…
“Monday through Saturday at 8:45 a.m. the bell rings at St. Thomas More Catholic Parish. It chimes for a minute — one gong following another.
While some might find the chimes a comforting reminder that the day is under way, not so for John Devaney. They disrupt his life and helped precipitate the demise of his marriage, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.
Devaney lives directly across Rockland Street from the picturesque church. He is asking the court to order it to reduce the number of bell claps and gongs so he can “peacefully enjoy” his property.
A towering man with white hair, Devaney has long complained about the bell, the lawsuit says. The church bell did not operate when he and his now ex-wife bought the 1885 clapboard house — the former parish rectory –– 18 years ago.
About six years later a new church administrator came in. The bell was upgraded to operate electronically. It began ringing, its sounds amplified, the suit says.
The bell also chimes at noon and 6 p.m. each day, 4:45 p.m. on Saturdays, and 7:45 a.m. on Sundays, the suit says. It tolls for weddings and funerals.
Devaney counts 700 “claps” and “gongs” each week, more than 36,000 throughout the year. The sounds, the suit claims, represent a permanent trespass, interrupting Devaney’s dreams, his thoughts, his family relationships. At times, he wears earplugs.
The end result for Devaney is arguments, bad moods and emotional distance, the suit claims.
The town’s response to Devaney’s numerous complaints is one that applies in most communities: places of religious worship are exempt from noise ordinances by town code.
“We don’t believe we can regulate that noise,” interim Town Manager Richard I. Kerbel said.
The church offered a statement through the Catholic Diocese of Providence explaining that the bell was restored years ago through the generosity of a parishioner.
“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 reads. “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.”
The diocese would not elaborate on the nature of the parish’s complaints against Devaney. He has not faced criminal charges, according to the police.
Devaney, 64, served on the Narragansett School Committee in the late 1990s.
In Providence, an issue arose between Hotel Providence and the storied Grace Episcopal Church downtown regarding its bells.
Staff at the luxury boutique hotel on Mathewson Street approached church leadership soon after the Rev. Jonathan Huyck’s arrival three years ago. At the time, the church bells sounded every 15 minutes throughout the day.
“It seemed to me that maybe ringing every quarter hour was a bit much,” Huyck said.
After meeting with the hotel, the church dropped the frequency to every half hour.
“We are very close neighbors. We love having them there,” Huyck said.
Perhaps once a year, Huyck fields a complaint about the bells, he says.
“Our response is to explain, ‘We’ve been doing this for 150 years. This is part of the fabric of the neighborhood. We’re sorry you don’t like it,’” Huyck says.
It’s a clash that reverberates in other states as well. An innkeeper in Bath, Maine, complained to no avail about losing guests due to the city clock chiming on the hour, according to the Coastal Journal.
Devaney’s lawsuit names Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, Diocese of Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States, and Pope Francis as defendants.
He challenges the constitutionality of a state law that dictates that “a governmental authority may not restrict a person’s free exercise of religion.” He asks that the court declare it “null and void” and bar Kilmartin from enforcing it.
He also takes aim at St. Peters by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, which chimes around the corner from his home. He names Linda O’Neill, its administrator, as a defendant as well.
Devaney, who is acting as his own lawyer, argues that state law denies protections afforded him under the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and denies him the “peaceful enjoyment of his property.”
He asks the court to order the town to enforce its noise ordinances, and the churches to reduce the number and volume of chimes.
He is seeking 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 chimes.
The attorney general’s office declined comment. Officials at St. Peters did not return two phone calls.”