Religious tour company stiffs prospective pilgrims, BBB says

Religious tour company stiffs prospective pilgrims, Texas AG saysPlanning a trip overseas to see the Shroud of Turin or other holy relics? You might want to check with the Better Business Bureau before spending thousands of dollars on your reservation.

Customers from Alaska to New Jersey have filed complaints with the BBB and the Texas Attorney General against Garland-based tour operator Renaissance Pilgrimages for making last-minute cancellations, not issuing refunds and not responding to complaints.

The BBB reports it has received 12 complaints in the past eight months. Of those 12 complaints, seven remain unanswered, one is unresolved and four filed recently are being processed.

"We've seen this happen before with this company," Jeannette Kopko, spokeswoman for the BBB in Dallas, told Consumer Ally.

In 2008 and 2009, the BBB received similar complaints and changed the company's rating to an F due to the number unresolved. The company eventually reimbursed customers and the BBB changed the company's rating to a C+. The spate of new complaints, however, earned the company another F rating.

Problems with the company's owner, Robert W. Grove, date back to 2003 when the Texas Attorney General sued him.. The suit alleged that Grove's previous companies, Mediatrix Tours Inc. and Renaissance Catholic Tours Inc., had failed to give promised refunds and misled prospective customers through ads or other communications that they were connected to the Catholic Church. Grove ultimately filed for bankruptcy.

Tom Kelley, a spokesman for the Texas Attorney General, told Consumer Ally his agency received new complaints and is reviewing them. He said anyone else who has had problems with this company should file a complaint online or by mailing it in.

Calls made to Grove and his company were not returned.

Marlene Kerchenski of Alaska purchased a trip to Italy and Germany with Renaissance Pilgrimages so she and her mother could see the Shroud of Turin and the Oberammergau Passion Play, performed every 10 years. She mailed a check for $3,699 and received a confirmation invoice from Groves. Not long after paying, Groves emailed her that the trip, scheduled for May 10 to May 18, had been canceled.

Kerchenski hasn't heard from Groves since, despite repeated attempts. She filed a complaint with the BBB last month.

"I'm truly disappointed. My mom especially is disappointed," Kerchenski said. "I think it's time to do something about this company, but my fear is he's going to do the same thing he did before and that is file for bankruptcy."
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