Reg Hartt looks at his replica of the Shroud of Turin which he has on display in his home for visitors to see. This is one of the reasons he is battling city hall. Photo by Michael Swan

Shroud of Turin replica caught in bylaw battle

  • November 25, 2016

TORONTO – It takes faith to thumb your nose at city hall, and Reg Hartt has plenty.

After first threatening to stop the Toronto man from inviting people into his house to look at a replica of the Shroud of Turin, city officials now say they only want Hartt’s in-home movie screenings and lectures to fall into line with zoning laws.

It’s not the first time Toronto bureaucracy has tried to shut down Hartt, the man behind Toronto’s Cineforum. In 2011 it came down to then-mayor Rob Ford to overturn a Municipal Licensing and Standards decision which had shut down Hartt’s living room theatre-cum-lecture-hall for several months.

This time, it’s not his right to show movies but his penchant for talking about faith that got Hartt in trouble with Toronto zoning law. In June, the city claimed Hartt was operating a church, contrary to his Bathurst Street residential zoning.

“I never said I was operating a church. I’m not operating a church, per se,” said Hartt. “But the meaning of the word church is community. I am open to the community. I am part of the community.”

Four-and-a-half months later, the city seems to have backed off the church charges, but is still upset about Hartt’s in-home movie lectures. In an email to The Catholic Register, city officials claim they wanted Hartt to submit an application for a “Preliminary Project Review” so the city could determine whether Cineforum “could continue to operate without going through a full zoning review.”

It’s against the city’s zoning bylaw to operate a movie theatre in a residential area.

Hartt has no intention of applying to do something he’s been doing for more than 30 years. No preliminary project review application has been submitted. On Oct. 26 the city sent Hartt a letter offering to assist him with the application, “so that no additional enforcement action has to be taken.”

“I’m not worried about that (enforcement),” said Hartt.

Hartt obtained his certified replica of the Shroud of Turin from the Shroud of Turin Education and Research Association, Inc. in July of 2015 for $3,000. The Shroud of Turin Education and Research Association is run by Barrie Schwortz, who was the official photographer for a 1978 scientific investigation into the authenticity of the shroud.

The Vatican has owned the shroud since 1983 but makes no comment about its authenticity.

For his $3,000, Hartt received both the full-sized cotton replica and “permission to publicly display it in an appropriate manner in a setting or venue of your choice,” according to a letter from Schwortz.

Hartt doesn’t make money directly off the replica shroud, but does receive contributions from Cineforum film fanatics.

Hartt said it isn’t the city’s business if he wants to invite strangers into his house to look at the shroud and discuss Jesus.

“The city said you can’t do this. You can’t invite strangers into your home. I said, ‘Well I’m not seeing them as strangers. I’m seeing them as family.’ ”

Looking at strangers and calling them family is a central tenant of Hartt’s own interpretation of the gospels, which he developed in the 1960s and ’70s based on his reading of the Chinese text I Ching, and then a 1970 bus ride to Hollywood during which he read a pocket New Testament five times.

“I’ve been living a life based on faith since 1968. One of the things the I Ching teaches is that we are to see strangers as friends. Of course the Gospel teaches we see strangers as family,” Hartt said.

Hartt has offered his replica shroud to his childhood Catholic parish in Minto, N.B., but was told the parish needed permission from the bishop before it went ahead with that kind of display. His hometown’s hesitation may be what has put Hartt off organized religion.

“I accept Jesus and reject Christianity,” a provocative Hartt writes on his website.

Meanwhile, Hartt continues to offer his replica shroud “to any diocese or any church, Catholic or non-Catholic.”

Hartt’s belief in the shroud, which many see as a medieval forgery, is unshakable.

“The shroud has been called the fifth Gospel,” Hartt said. “And it is. It bears witness to the passion, the suffering and the Resurrection…. The science now bears out that everything in the Gospels is true, which is astonishing.”

Hartt caught the attention of several newspapers over the summer for his battle with city hall, but in conversation he doesn’t seem worried about byaw enforcement.

“The city can shut me down. I mean, you know Jesus? They threw Him in the tomb and they thought that was that. It wasn’t. I’m Irish and we Irish love fights.”

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