A Lutheran minister and an unemployed shipbuilder, charged with throwing skunk oil into a gathering at a Pittsburgh church, have joined a dozen dissidents barricaded inside a Lutheran church here in defiance of arrest warrants ordering them to leave.
"They are not going to sit in that church and claim sanctuary," Allegheny County Sheriff Eugene L. Coon said today. "This was a pretty nasty crime, to attack children at a Christmas party . . . . "
The arrest warrants issued Wednesday night for the Rev. William Rex and Paul Brandt, both of suburban Pittsburgh, increased the pressure on police to storm the chained doors of Trinity Lutheran Church. Inside, supporters of jailed minister D. Douglas Roth were in the eighth day of their occupation.
Roth and other ministers have charged that powerful corporations are largely responsible for the decline of Pittsburgh's steel industry. The protesters are seeking added unemployment benefits for steelworkers who have lost their jobs and commitments to keep older steel plants operating.
Roth was ousted from his pulpit at Trinity and jailed in November for refusing to leave. His supporters have vowed to resist the court-ordered surrender of the church to Lutheran authorities.
"We will shut the church down and turn it over to the Synod," Coon said, referring to the Lutheran church's governing body, which obtained the court orders ousting Roth and dissolving his congregation.
Rex and Roth are among a dozen ministers affiliated with the Denominational Ministry Strategy, a controversial church-labor coalition whose tactics have drawn national attention to the decline of the steel industry.
Those inside the church -- including at least three ministers, three local union presidents and Roth's wife, Nadine -- have said they will come out if corporate and government officials commit themselves to some of DMS' goals.
Rex and Brandt are charged in connection with a Dec. 16 incident at Shadyside Presbyterian Church, a Pittsburgh parish whose members include executives of U.S. Steel Corp. and Mellon Bank.
According to police, three men wearing gas masks barged into a children's Christmas pageant and hurled balloons filled with water and skunk oil. The men fled in a station wagon that police said they traced to Rex.
Rex has said he was distributing leaflets outside Shadyside at the time of the incident, but was not involved. He also told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he had given the car to Brandt as a gift. Brandt was unavailable for comment.
The two are charged with criminal mischief, ethnic intimidation, conspiracy and vandalism.
Rev. James Von Dreele, an Episcopal minister and DMS spokesman, said the charges were false and provided an "excuse" for sheriff's deputies to break into the church.
"I don't need an excuse," said Coon, who would not disclose his plans.