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August 21, 2007 > Ringing bell too early and too loud

Ringing bell too early and too loud

By AP Wire Service

TILBURG, Netherlands (AP), Aug 17 In a ding-dong battle between a Catholic church and city fathers, a priest is being slapped with a euro5,000 (US$6,700) fine each time he rings his church bell to call his flock to early morning Mass.

Following complaints from residents, municipal officials in Tilburg, 115 kilometers (70 miles) south of Amsterdam, urged Father Harm Schilder for months to stop ringing the bell of the Holy Margarita Maria Church each weekday at 7:15 a.m., municipality spokesman Thomas Heesters said Friday.

The least he could do is reduce the volume, they said.

When Schilder failed to rein in the ringing, the city warned that starting Aug. 16, he would be fined for every morning the bell sounds.

Despite the threat, the bells rang out again Thursday and Friday.

``The council does not want to get involved in this - it's a house of prayer - but we have to take into account the feelings of local residents,'' Heesters said.

He said he expected the first letter with a demand for payment of euro5,000 for Thursday would be sent to the church later Friday. If the priest refuses to pay, the municipality could send bailiffs to the church.

In a statement posted on its Web site, the Diocese of Den Bosch, under which the church falls, called on Schilder to stop the ringing or take measures to make it quieter ``to prevent further escalation in the case.''

Schilder, who was appointed last October, did not immediately return phone calls Friday.

But his church's Web site had a message for complaining neighbors: You are in our prayers.

The message said the church was taking the complaint so seriously it was investigating whether it could install a smaller bell.

``Legally, the parish has a right to ring the bell,'' the statement said, adding that the morning service - usually attended by between five and 15 people - allowed school children and people who work during the day to celebrate Mass.

``People who are bothered by the bell should know that we pray for them in the Mass,'' the message said.

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