Top Stories 2012: Northbridge Gay Couple Sues Church

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James Fairbanks, right, and Alain Beret filed suit against the Catholic Church, charging the the church refused to sell them property in Northbridge because they are gay. Photo Credit: Deborah Gauthier

NORTHBRIDGE, Mass. – The sale of a historic mansion on Hill Street in Whitinsville gained national attention in July when the mansion’s owner, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester, refused to sell the property to a gay couple.

James Fairbanks and Alain Beret of Sutton filed a lawsuit against the church in Worcester Superior Court claiming discrimination.

Fairbanks and Beret had been in negotiations with the church to purchase the 44-room home on Hill Street – now known as Oakhurst and once the House of Affirmation, where troubled priests were treated.

The men, who have been together for 34 years and married since 2004, had planned to restore the mansion and its gardens and open it up to public events such as weddings and showers. However, they said the church blocked the sale for fear gay weddings would be held at the site.

Carvajal & Nielson of Worcester and the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center (MHFC) filed a four-count suit for Fairbanks and Beret charging discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The complaint is based, in part, on a thread of messages sent to the couple, one from Monsignor Thomas Sullivan to the broker that says: "I just went down the hall and discussed it with the bishop. Because of the potentiality of gay marriages there, something you shared with us yesterday, we are not interested in going forward with these buyers. I think they're shaky anyway. So, just tell them that we will not accept their revised plan and the Diocese is making new plans for the property. You find the language." 

Previously, the church has said the couple’s finances soured the deal. Beret said financing was never an issue.

In October, the property was sold to James Knott Sr. of Whitinsville for $800,000.

His plan is to restore the mansion as a conference center.

The Northbridge Daily Voice is tallying the top 10 stories of 2012 this week.

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stillaranch:

I hope they win. It's a clear case of discrimination against a protects class. I'm surprised the sale of the property to Mr. Knott was allowed to go through while there was pending litigation. Maybe Knott will sell it to this couple and they can start work on their new business which would have been great for the town.

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