Free Snow Removal and Invisible Vigils

With all of the snow we have had here in Boston during the month of January, across the archdiocese hundreds of active parishes are facing much higher than expected bills for snow removal they must pay from their own bank accounts with parishioner donations.

At the same time, 5 closed parishes who exhausted all civil and canonical appeals as of July 2010 still get their snow removed for free.  Well, it is free to the people protesting the closure of the parish who claim to be occupying the churches in so-called “vigils.” These bills, and others to the tune of millions of dollars over recent years, are actually paid by the archdiocese.

How many pastors would not accept the archdiocese paying their January snow removal bills?

Until recently, a lot of people were under the mistaken impression that these “vigils” were staffed a sufficient number of hours day and night that breaking them up would  present some massive public relations problem so confrontational and embarrassing that the folks at 66 Brooks Drive needed to avoid the PR issue at all costs.  After all, “vigil” means some “purposeful or watchful staying awake during the usual hours of sleep.”

Not exactly true.  A recent visit by an alert reader to one “vigil” site at St. James the Great in Wellesley found the parking lot plowed, the doors locked, and absolutely no one there.

So, from the archdiocese that has brought us “Sham Searches”  and raised the sophistication level of their deception around these searches to nearly a science, we now have “Invisible Vigils.”

An “Invisible Vigil” is a “vigil” that is not really a vigil at all. It is a shell of whatever the initial protest may have been.  Today, an “Invisible Vigil” is infrequently staffed and may give some outward appearance of being backed by a number of parishioners, yet is not.  And yes folks, hundreds of thousands of dollars a year are being spent unnecessarily by the archdiocese in snow removal costs, insurance, utilities, and maintenance/repair to support these “Invisible Vigils” and maintain properties to residential standards which are much higher than would be required if the property were unoccupied.

Why?

Mismanagement.

Though each closed parish with so-called “vigils” is different, let us look at St. James in Wellesley as one example.  In October of 2004, parishioners began a “round the clock” vigil to protest the closure of the church.  In October of 2008, they told the Boston Globe that “At all times one of their members is in residence in the building, eating, working, and sleeping in a small office off the cavernous sanctuary.”  But even if that was really true in 2008–and we are not sure if it was the case then–by September 2010, the public comments had changed, when the Globe reported, “In Wellesley, there are sometimes blank spots in the vigil schedule; on a beautiful summer Saturday last month, the church was deserted most of the day.”

That is how alert reader, “Mike B” found St. James the Great in Wellesley over a recent weekend and described it to us in an email:

“BCI,

I was driving past St. James in Wellesley this weekend and stopped by to see what was going on.  I expected to find a few people inside church. I thought maybe there’d be some confrontation when I walked in if they thought I was one of the ‘heavies’ from the archdiocese trying to lock the place up on them. I thought maybe they’d be dialing-up reporters at the local cable news station and Boston Globe to come out and film the scene if people were prevented from entering the church like you guys suggested they should do. It was actually completely dead. Doors all locked. No one was there but the entrances were shoveled and parking lot was plowed with enough room for maybe about 25 cars. It was even plowed around the back where no one would be driving. Shoot, I’d like to have that kind of service at my home! Do they get free snow removal courtesy of the archdiocese?  Our parish is asking for special donations since it’s costing more than we budgeted already.  If my kids and I do a sleepover in the church on Saturday night, can we get the archdiocese to pay for snow plowing?…Here are some pics I snapped…”

In the style of Cardinal Sean’s blog we now offer you a photographic view of the grounds at the site of the “Invisible Vigil” at St. James the Great in Wellesley.

St. James the Great as seen from Route 9

Front entrance cleared of snow

Plowed area of main parking lot

Back entrance cleared of snow

Driveway behind church and rectory is well plowed and cleared. Why?

Path to nowhere. Parking area on east side of church cleared, but piles of snow prevent access to church from here and it's clear the other entrances are the only ones used. Why is this even plowed?

Special thanks to Mike B for passing on the information and photos.

As of 2008, the archdiocese said they had spent $2.2 million on utilities, insurance, and other costs at the five so-called “vigil” churches for the prior four years, or an average of more than $500K/year. We hear the cost may actually be closer to $800K/year now. Even the archdiocesan spokesman said in that 2008 article, “”These vigils have to end at some point. It’s an issue of fairness to the parishes that are open and struggling to serve people.”  So, why is it that the archdiocese does not just change the locks and padlock the doors of these facilities to end the vigils and stop spending quite so much money on maintenance that could be used elsewhere?

In the beginning, as we have shared previously, Cardinal Sean’s own instructions to the property management company were that if a building was found unoccupied it should be locked, and the locksmith called to change the locks.  Then Fr. Bryan Hehir and the PR wizards at Rasky Baerlein said no, that would be a breach of trust, so even those found empty were left alone.  That has gone on for more than six years.

BCI has located a locksmith willing to change the locks on parishes on very short notice. BCI and our supporters will foot the bill and we are glad to hand the keys for the new locks over to the archdiocese–provided the archdiocese simply makes clear that the vigil is over, takes steps to keep the doors locked, reduces the wasteful spending associated with keeping them open and applies those savings to the clergy or lay retirement funds.  If anyone at 66 Brooks Drive would like to take advantage of this offer, please drop us a line.

In November of 2004, Cardinal O’Malley said the following in a letter to the archdiocese:

Many parishes are unable to pay their bills. The pension plans for laity and clergy are in danger..I am appealing to all Catholics to be Catholics first. I know that we all have a great love for our parish and parish church, but our first love must be for Christ and the Body of Christ which is the Church…If difficult decisions are not made now, the mission of the Church will be seriously compromised in the future.

Your Eminence, it is more than six years later.  Many parishes are still unable to pay their bills, and the pension plans for laity and clergy are still in danger. You have allowed this to drag on for six years.  How much longer are you waiting in order to make this difficult decision?

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14 Responses to Free Snow Removal and Invisible Vigils

  1. Lapsed and Loving It says:

    Listen, folks. There is a move afoot to TAX these closed properties because they are no longer used as churches. Would you rather have RCAB pay property taxes or plow lots? What is the liability on these vacant pieces of property if someone is hurt and the snow and ice wasn’t removed? RCAB got caught with its pants down. Great idea, let’s sell off the properties! Then the bottom fell out. Almost as if someone called down the wrath of God upon RCAB.

    • L & L,
      Thanks for your message. We fully understand that property owners can be held liable for injury if they do not take reasonable measures to minimize safety hazards created by snow or ice, and we were not suggesting anyone take that risk. However, the photos provided to us and other published articles suggest some amount of plowing, snow removal, and other maintenance on the nearly 8-acre property that is simply unnecessary whether there was a so-called “vigil” or not.

      As for selling properties, the St. James property in Wellesley is highly “sellable.” The Town of Wellesley is very interested in the property and has had the property assessed at around $3.5 million,

      http://wellesley.patch.com/articles/hockey-rink-on-st-james-property-likely-wouldnt-offer-hometown-discount

      The town has already embarked on various studies about how it could be redeveloped as single- or multifamily housing, commercial space or as a recreational town facility.

      http://www.wickedlocal.com/wellesley/news/x1073709849/Wellesley-preparing-for-future-of-St-James-site

      This article describes how the archdiocese has ensured the grounds were kept well-maintained and landscaped in the summer months as well:

      http://wellesley.patch.com/articles/st-james-study-committee-meets-tomorrow

      Here is a photo of the property in the summertime:

      http://wellesley.patch.com/articles/st-james-study-committee-meets-tomorrow#photo-404697

      This church is on prime real estate in Wellesley. With canonical appeals exhausted, there is simply no reason to keep this church “open” and maintained to residential standards any longer for an “Invisible Vigil” rather than close it entirely, prepare it for sale, and sell it.

      • Carolyn says:

        a few words about my local, infuriating “vigil:”

        If you google articles about the Scituate sit-in, you’ll see that Jon Rogers, who is very vocal about that location being a vibrant faith community in 24-hour vigil, with the presence of the Eucharist, and “lay-led Communion services,” is also the lead voice that succeeded in getting the town of Scituate to charge the Archdiocese huge property taxes. Yep, the same Jon Rogers has told them that the property is full of prayer and stained glass and Holy Communion, 24 hours per day, without interruption, since the day they got in. But, he contendsa, the tax exemption for religious purposes should be set aside because they do not have Mass.

        Really, Jon? What about the other religions in town, should they lose their tax exemption because they don’t have Mass? Bet they’d differ with you.

        The problem isn’t Jon Rogers, or Scituate’s tax bill. (Wonder how much RCAB has spent on fighting tax bills in Scituate?) One problem is the cardinal’s willingness to buckle to small squeaky wheels, while he deprives other legitimate parishes in need the resources he could have given them; and the other problem is a chancellor, whose long history and sense of obligation to Ann Carter of Rasky Baerlein, is lacking every element needed to do his job according to canon law and standard legal and financial practice. What is he good at? He’s very good at doing what Ann Carter tells him to do, and has been for ten years.

        Game over. Time for a new team, and not one anointed by the current crew.

    • Objective Observer says:

      Dear Lapsed,

      The properties are taxed in a number of places, and not in others. Some towns realize that once the properties sell, they will likely return to the tax rolls as housing (vast majority of what churches, rectories and convents become), so those towns really like to sit back and hope that the property is sold expeditiously. Other towns take a shorter view. In the meantime, RCAB has spent a fortune arguing the point in places like Scituate, Belmont, et. al.

      A little Risk Management talk:

      As for liability, if the property (at its perimeter and on the entrance ways) is posted “No Trespassing, no admittance, police take notice,” and the owner can assure the local fire and police departments that no one is present and only maintenance people have access, then the town posts a special symbol (red line through a box) to indicate that the property is not occupied. At that point, the property owner must only plow sufficiently to allow access by emergency equipment (fire trucks), and is not held to the standard of a property with “invitees.” Invitees are people who are there for any reason, absent a “no trespassing” posting.

      This doesn’t even touch on the fact that RCAB caters to the tiny number of those who chose the “vigil” route, while forgetting all about the thousands who moved to other parishes because they were told that reconfiguring was essential. The salt in their wounds would melt all the snow that has fallen in January.

  2. Reluctant Donor says:

    At first, I was quite sympathetic to the vigils and I still have tremendous respect for those who participated. After all, vigilers have something in common with BCI as both groups strive to highlight RCAB mismangement, each in its own way.

    That said, the vigilers have long since proven their point. As a retired police officer, I have no doubt that at this stage, if RCAB contacted the local police there would be little if any resistance from vigilers asked (then ordered if necessary) to evacuate. I’m not holding my breath, but perhaps RCAB could do it diplomatically with the Cardinal or his Auxiliaries accompanying the police, praying with anyone left at vigils and then asking them to join the welcoming parish. I know they tried this originally, but with the passage of time and exhaustion of appeals, perhaps it’s worth another shot. Every seasoned police officer has a way of dealing with so-called “unwanted parties” whether in a private home, hospital business or church. It’s a common call. I doubt there would be any significant resistance in this case, especially as most of the weekday vigilers (if any) are retired seniors.

    I agree with BCI that it’s long since past the time for RCAB to act.

    PS: Thanks to all who gave me advice on my quest to donate to my own parish without RCAB confiscating any of my hard earned cash for the outrageous salaries. I stopped by my rectory and inquired of the secretary (pastor was out). It was clear that I wasn’t the first to raise similar concerns. I donated to the parish Grand Annual, with a strict edict that all monies remain in parish. The lay staff that I spoke with was well aware and none too happy with the massive payroll on Brooks Drive while there’s only crumbs for them and the clergy.

  3. Confused says:

    I really don’t understand why the RCAB continues to enable this issue while withholding support from truly vibrant parishes. It makes those of us who have been through the closure process and moved onto to practice our faith in open parishes very disappointed. It makes me think of the badly behaved children who are given in to. This really needs to change.

  4. Quality Guy says:

    ah , what will we do in the near future, when we execute the next reorganization effort? the realignment of parish borders to define a parish as a geographic region with one or many church buildings and one central staff administering all of the facilites is sure to produce more upset by those reluctant to accept the reality of a declining priest population , declining Mass attendence
    [ how effecitve does anyone think the CatholicsComeHomeBoston.org program will be ??? ] and the concomitatnt further decline in $$$ ???

    Sell all of the ‘abandoned’ churches, schools , rectories and convents as quickly as possible , turn the income generated over to the receiving parishes [ I beleive required by Canon Law ?? ] and get on with life and evangelization to try and save our Mother church !!

  5. Jack O'Malley says:

    As Quality Guy mentions, these dire statistics about a declining priest population and declining Mass attendance keep cropping up.

    Does anyone have a clue why that might be? My old theory was the lack of shoveling and plowing might deter vocations and attendance. But I’m beginning to rethink that theory.

  6. Priest Just Wondering says:

    The Diocese has been more than generous and fair to these few who are ‘holding out’. However, it’s timae to take action. I’m “JUST WONDERING” what are these groups waiting for? They made request after request to Rome and Rome has spoken…..N O! What part of N or O don’t they understand? It’s time for the Diocese to step up to the plate and take action. Close and change-lock the doors. And, if need be – and I hope it won’t – get the police involved. I mean, I applaud them for their efforts, But they ‘lost the good fight’ now they have to surrender in peace and move on so the Diocese can stop spending so much unnecessary money to maintain “Non-Catholic Religious Services.” As I said: “I’m Just Wondering!” I know the ‘pain’ of having to merge, but when you do it right, you can move on to another vibrant community of CAtholic Worshipers.

    • Clem Kadiddlehopper says:

      That made sense 5 years ago, and it still makes sense today. The amount of money expended (wasted) on our rebel brother’s and sister’s temper tantrum is breathtaking.

  7. [...] how and when the Archdiocese of Boston is going to address six years of mismanagement of the “Invisible Vigils“ at closed parishes and reduce excessive 6-figure salaries that together are costing donors [...]

  8. [...] wasting $1-2 million a year on excessive six-figure salaries and maintenance of the  ”Invisible Vigils,”  does it really matter which Corporation Sole pockets the money is taken [...]

  9. [...] In our post six months ago, “Free Snow Removal and Invisible Vigils”, a reader, “Priest Just Wondering” said: I’m “JUST WONDERING” what are these groups waiting for? They made request after [...]

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