Atlanta -- The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta has filed a lawsuit accusing a network of Spanish-speaking churches of falsely claiming to be Catholic -- with priests who celebrate Mass, hear confessions and offer Communion to immigrants who mistakenly think the churches are tied to the Vatican.
"These men dress as priests and conduct services that appear to be a Catholic Mass," said David Brown, attorney for the archdiocese. "You cannot simply set up in whatever church and call yourself Roman Catholic. That's fraud."
The lawsuit, filed Monday, seeks an injunction against Capilla de la Fe, or Chapel of the Faith, churches [associated with the Universal Church Kingdom of God], barring them from calling themselves Catholic. It is also asking for unspecified damages for donations worshipers gave in the belief the money would go to the Catholic Church.
It is thought to be the first lawsuit of its kind ever filed by the U.S. Catholic Church, Brown said.
The Capilla de la Fe churches would not allow reporters inside. A secretary at one location said only that the church was nondenominational.
The archdiocese argues that the congregants, often new to America, are duped into believing they are in a Roman Catholic church.
The Capilla de la Fe priests "raise considerable funds" selling religious items and holy objects, Brown said.
The archdiocese was so alarmed that it sent its own Hispanic priests to services to see what Capilla de la Fe priests were telling people. In July, Archbishop John Donoghue sent a letter to churches warning them about phony Spanish-speaking priests.
Some Capilla de la Fe services are unlike anything offered at Roman Catholic parishes, including one focusing on "strong prayer to destroy witchcraft, demon-possession, nightmares, curses, envy, bad luck or spiritual problems."