Rehoboth’s Grotto Pizza to host nativity

After a week of controversy, issue appears settled for this year
December 13, 2018

It appears Rehoboth’s controversial creche is homeless no more – Grotto Pizza has agreed to allow installation of the nativity on its Rehoboth Avenue property.

The Rev. William Cocco of St. Edmond Catholic Church said Dec. 13 that after city officials earlier this week denied permission to place the nativity for a second time, he was going to take the Rehoboth Avenue pizzeria up on its offer to welcome it.

Grotto Pizza Vice President Jeff Gosnear said he hadn’t spoken with Cocco, but the offer to place the nativity scene at Rehoboth Avenue Grotto was 100 percent for real. The church is more than welcome to put the nativity scene on the patio or in the area in front of the restaurant, Gosnear said. “It’s all private property.”

The placement of the nativity scene has garnered the city a lot of attention over the past week, beginning Dec. 2, at the Community Unity Dinner, when church parishioner Patty Derrick and Cocco approached Mayor Paul Kuhns and City Manager Sharon Lynn about putting up the nativity near the bandstand. A couple of days later, and after the church says it contacted local representatives from other houses of worship, St. Edmond parishioners installed the creche near the Christmas tree on Rehoboth Avenue.

During a meeting at city hall Dec. 5, Kuhns and Lynn were informed of the installation. By noon, Dec. 6, it had been removed. During a special meeting Dec. 7, four dozen parishioners and Cocco showed up to show their disapproval of the city’s decision.

At the close of the meeting discussion, Kuhns described the whole situation as a black eye for the city.

Cocco and the other parishioners continued to look for a home. Derrick said more than 15 Rehoboth Avenue businesses had reached out to her offering space on private property.

The most public offering came from the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce during its awards luncheon Dec. 13.

In front of a full dining room at the Cultured Pearl, chamber President Carol Everhart offered land in front of the the chamber’s new Rehoboth Avenue home. Citing the chamber’s mission statement – civic responsibility – Everhart’s offer drew a round of applause from most of the people at the luncheon.

“Fingers crossed,” she said.

Prior to the offer, Everhart said the city owns the land, but the chamber has a long-term lease on the building and the land.

A handful of city officials were at the luncheon, including Kuhns. He said the city attorney had reviewed the lease with the chamber, and the chamber’s offer appeared to be OK and that the chamber appeared to be offering a good resolution for this year.

From the beginning, Kuhns said the city wanted to avoid appearing to promote one set of religious beliefs over another. Looking to next year, Kuhns said perhaps there can be a plan set forth early enough so that all religions can be included.

Cocco said he agreed 100 percent with Kuhn’s statement last week categorizing the issue as a black eye for Rehoboth. “The difference is, I think it was self-inflicted,” Cocco said. “The city was just being unreasonable.”

Kuhns said he had no problem whatsoever with Grotto Pizza offering space for the nativity scene and that Cocco was entitled to his opinion.

However, Kuhns questioned Cocco’s decision not to take the chamber up on its offer. Cocco has decided to put it in a crowded space with obstructed views, where it won’t be seen by as many people, Kuhns said, instead of being prominently displayed on Rehoboth Avenue for all to see.