Boston Church Asks Vatican to Stop its Sale

The Boston Herald has just posted an article about how parishioners at Holy Trinity in Boston, which closed in 2008, have asked the Vatican to stop the Boston Archdiocese’s attempts to sell the church building. “Parishioners at Boston’s Holy Trinity Church, recently listed for $2.3 million, made the request Monday to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy.”

We wrote about the archdiocese seeking input on the relegation to profane use of 7 other parishes, but Holy Trinity is different–they were not included in that group for some reason.  Could Jim McDonough be trying to fast-track this one so the prime South End real estate can go to one of Jack Connors’ developer cronies?

BCI has been unable to dedicate much time to following the details of this situation, but was pleased to receive this contributed piece by guest blogger, Monica Servidora. (click on any of the images below to zoom/enlarge)

Selling Off a Catholic Spiritual and Architectural Gem

By Monica Servidora

While the Archdiocese is garnering good publicity by seeking public input on the future use of seven closed churches, it also could be facing problems for bypassing Canon Law over the sale of another church.

Historical Holy Trinity Church in the South End is up for sale without going through the step of having it first “relegated to profane use.”

Former parishioners filed an urgent appeal through their canon lawyer in Rome March 14 to the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy to immediately halt the sale of this architectural gem. They also faxed a similar request March 11 to Cardinal Sean O’Malley, but have received no response.

Parishes are suppressed, merged or closed when the ordinary determines they are no longer essential to the mission of the Church.  When a church is “relegated to profane use,” it means a Church building is converted from sacred uses and will no longer be used for Catholic liturgical worship. “Profane use” is articulated by the canons, including that it either be torn down, or not allocated to “sordid use” (eg. abortion clinic, research facility for embryonic stem cell research, pornography shop).

Although Holy Trinity supporters had heard talk that the 134-year-old building would soon be sold, they were surprised March 9 to see this online “development opportunity” real estate listing at Gibson Southby’s Realty. (click on image to the right to zoom)

The beautiful neo-Gothic-style building, located on Shawmut Avenue between the Boston Herald and East Berkley Street, is selling for $2.3 million. Online photos show the turreted white altar flanked by golden angels with the now-empty tabernacle between them.

Of the nearly 70 Boston-area churches closed since 2004, Holy Trinity was the last to be closed (June 2008) and the first to have its appeal definitively denied by the Vatican Apostolic Signatura (November 2009.)

But concerned former parishioners say their last remaining right under church law (Canon 1222 sec 2) is being trampled; they’re between a rock and a hard place.

They had requested a “notice of the relegation of profane use” so they could appeal through the ecclesiastical channels: normally, to the Cardinal himself, then to the Congregation for the Clergy, and then to the Apostolic Signatura.

Parishioners sent a formal warning letter on December 27, 2010 to the Cardinal; they followed the lead of other Archdiocesan parishes whose suppressions were also upheld by the Apostolic Signatura. They “cautioned against selling the Church of Holy Trinity in Boston” without observing the canonical norms.

If the Archdiocese failed to respond within a 90-day deadline, parishioners could appeal the reduction to profane use to the Congregation for the Clergy, based on the fact of the closure of the church to divine worship since June 2008.

They cannot appeal the reduction to profane use before the 90-day deadline of March 27 expires. Yet because the property was listed for sale weeks before, this could be a moot point.

(Actually, starting back in March 2010, people had individually requested notification of  the Cardinal’s decision to relegate Holy Trinity to profane use. Vicar General Father Richard Erickson responded in May 2010 to one such letter that “His Eminence has not made such a decision,” according to one source.)

“The thought of what is planned for this Domus Dei (House of God) sickens me,” one concerned parishioner wrote to Boston Catholic Insider. “Two religious orders (the FSSP and the ICRSS), have previously expressed interest in maintaining the property and the Cardinal has showed no interest…A utilitarian understanding of ‘worship space’ seems to have been prevailed upon at least two generations of Catholics in Boston, reducing sacred architecture and the theology of the Domus Dei to a managed asset,” the parishioner said. “This has paved the way to massive church suppressions in Boston with little or no outcry from clergy or laity alike. Does anyone question the secular model of Church, currently peddled by the corporate wizards at the Pastoral Center?”

Why are the other closed churches being treated differently?

Why is the Archdiocese going through a very public survey through March 18 for relegation to profane use with other seven other parishes – getting input before the property is put up for sale, but not doing this with Holy Trinity?

In part, probably, because the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Although Holy Trinity parishioners joined with vocal Council of Parishes, they didn’t go along with the idea of vigil sit-ins or Communion services. They joined this loose coalition so Rome could have a more complete picture of the Boston church closings situation.

Those parishes now being given the courtesy of public input had sent letters earlier than Holy Trinity did to the Archdiocese warning that the “relegation” process be honored. (Their final appeals for suppression were denied in 2010.) Of the seven being surveyed, four still claim to be in vigil. And according to Archdiocesan records, the “vigil meter” to maintain suppressed churches is now up to about $1.5 million annually.

In addition, on February 1, Holy Trinity lost its tax exemption status; its first quarterly tax payments came due and were paid. (Source: http://www.cityofboston.gov/assessing/search/?pid=0306170000.)

So Holy Trinity became a tax liability – but still a prime piece of city real estate. Sadly, it appears to be going the way of many other closed churches.

“When a parish is suppressed, the church is still a church because canon law requires it be relegated to profane use,” said a former Holy Trinity parishioner. “But mostly bishops up and sell them because they ignore the ‘profane use’ step. They almost entirely ignore it.”

Why?

“People have drunk the Kool-Aid,” the parishioner said. “They buy the idea that we need to sell our parish to help the Archdiocese. No, you don’t sell your house and move in with your parents because someone else can’t pay his debt. These are Christ’s churches; they’re houses of God, not to be treated like assets.”

Holy Trinity was designed by noted architect Patrick Keeley. A massive 2,880-pipe organ dominates the loft; the church can seat 1,200.

At the highest point near the vaulted cathedral ceiling are images of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Six-foot high Stations of the Cross line the blue-and- gold walls. Above each station stands a tall hand-carved wooden statue of an apostle. These alternate with 30-foot-high stained-glass windows bearing images of Michael the Archangel and other saints.

Peering down from higher on the walls are frescoes of St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Francis Xavier and other canonized Jesuits. The Society of Jesus ran the parish from 1848 to 1961, when it was transferred to the Archdiocese.

Pictorial pages of salvation history here surrounded generations of worshippers, who could point to them as they showed their children real faces from the Communion of Saints.

Over the years, this ethnic German parish opened schools, an orphanage and a home for the elderly. In 1990 it was designated to host the celebration of the Roman-rite in the Archdiocese, and soon a thriving Latin Mass community grew.

The German-Americans and the Latin Mass group did not just cohabit the building; they bonded. Together the parish had five active choirs, including a Gregorian chant ensemble, and a contributing membership from 94 zip codes. It hosted an Oktoberfest and a Christian Arts Series that offered orchestral and choir music concerts free to the public.

But in 2008 it was closed and its assets transferred to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

Commented one parishioner who’s been working through designated channels for the canonical rights of the faithful: “This is the Church that’s pushed social justice for 40 years and they’re treating their own people like this? It’s not right.”

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

BCI has just just one thought to add to the above piece. Why did Vicar General Fr. Erikson tell the Holy Trinity folks in May 2010 the Cardinal had not decided to relegate the church to profane use, and then it appears up for sale with no further notice–just after Fr. Erikson made a big deal a few weeks ago about how important it is to consider input from former parishioners?  Last month, he said in the Globe:

“Our buildings are important to us in the Catholic faith,” said the Rev. Richard M. Erikson, the archdiocese’s vicar general. “They’re places of high honor, where many of us have experienced first communions, marriages, the burial of loved ones. Church is like another home for us, so any time we consider a use other than the sacred, it’s a very serious matter, a very serious decision.”…

“To those skeptical” that their input will be considered, Erikson said, “I ask them to put their confidence in this process, which may be unprecedented, which is designed to be thorough, thoughtful and efficient, and which was developed with sincere intent.”

It’s a very serious matter, a very serious decision.  Put your confidence in the process…which is designed to be thorough…and developed with sincere intent.

Is Holy Trinity not a very serious matter and decision?  Why should people feel the process is thorough if the archdiocese excluded Holy Trinity and moved directly to sell it?  Fr. Erikson, what gives?

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23 Responses to Boston Church Asks Vatican to Stop its Sale

  1. Lapsed and Loving It says:

    “Catholics Come Home”….to what?

  2. Jack O' Malley says:

    A draft of a note I will send to Pope Benedikt XVI about the sale of Holy Trinity Church, which I attended.
    If any German-speakers will kindly improve on my text, I would be most grateful.

    Heiliger Vater,

    Ich, ein ehemaliger Gemeindemitglieder der Kirche der Dreifaltigkeit in Boston, bitte Sie
    den Verkauf dieser historischen Kirche zu verhindern. Die war eine deutsche Pfarrei und
    danach auch die Heimat der lateinischen Messe. Die wurde im Jahre 2008 pro Befehl Kardinals
    O’Malley geschlossen.

    Helfen Sie uns Ihren Gläubigen, Heiliger Vater. Die Situation ist in dieser Erzdiözese sehr dringend.
    Die finanzielle Korruption ist hier unglaublich. Ihre Kirche ist in einer Notlage. Verlassen Sie uns nicht.

    Gott segne Sie und vielen Dank für Summorum Pontificum.

    John J. O’Malley
    Boston, Mass, USA

  3. Jack O' Malley says:

    Oops, I forgot to include the translation:

    Holy Father,

    I, a former parishioner of Holy Trinity in Boston, request that you prevent the sale of this historic Church. It was
    a German parish and afterward the home of the Latin Mass. It was closed in 2008 by order of Cardinal O’Malley.

    Help your Faithful, Holy Father. The situation in this Archdioceses is desperate. The financial corruption is
    beyond belief. Your Church is in dire straits. Do not abandon us.

    May God bless you and thank you for Summorum Pontificum.

  4. TheLastCatholicinBoston says:

    Compare this masterpiece of a church with St. Albert’s in Weymouth which was ‘saved’ by a ‘sit-in’… I truly feel sick to my stomach.

    “Two religious orders (the FSSP and the ICRSS), have previously expressed interest in maintaining the property and the Cardinal has showed no interest”

    The international listing on Southby’s was a nice touch. Just in case hearts were not broken already.
    And for those who would suggest ‘they are only buldings’ I’d suggest a trip to Rome.

    Our Dear local Franciscan has become a parody of St. Francis’s mission to ‘Rebuild my Church’.
    These continuing blunders will become historic if they have not already.

  5. K&JSR says:

    The post misses a few of the most critical points.

    It is a grave offense, possibly excommunication by your own actions, to sell or desecrate a Church. Dioceses do NOT regularly sell Churches without Relegating to the Profane, but sometimes are sloppy about the Canonical requirement that they inform interested parties and provide for the Vatican to weigh in. They MUST Relegate before selling and they MUST provide for appeal and let the Vatican approve the Relegation if necessary. The Archdiocese and other Dioceses have been recently warned to make sure they do NOT skip these Canonical requirements. The consultation website was a commendable step, but did NOT include Holy Trinity.

    It is a shock that the Archdiocese has listed Holy Trinity for sale. Any brokerage agreement would have to include an agreement that the Archdiocese WOULD sell if a price or conditions are met. This is something they cannot do; only Rome can, and Rome takes years to hear appeals of Relegation. You can’t list the property because that presumes you know what Rome is going to say.

    It is also a shock, because the two communities who were moved to the Cathedral (German and Latin Mass) did NOT Vigil, get along very well and have great affection for both the Rector and the Cardinal. They are the Priests who should be making the decisions, and are sincere people, but is seems Real Estate developers know what the Archdiocese is going to do before they do. No notification, as required by Canon Law, came from the Chancery after Braintree made such a public display of fulfilling responsibilities for the Vigil Parishes.

    What has actually been done is as follows; the listing is taken as notification of the intent to Relegate, short-circuiting the lack of formal decree, so the appeal (the Archdiocese already had been informed in advance that an appeal would come) has been filed. Ordinarily an inhibitorium is filed shortly after an appeal, in this case it has had to come first, since the Chancery skipped some major steps.

    It should also be noted that the Latin Mass community is young, has been growing, and has plenty of vocations (4 last year), and there are recently constituted Orders that are dedicated to the Latin Mass (the correct term is Extraordinary Form) and are also growing and would LOVE to be invited into the Archdiocese to bolster the Priestly population. One, offered to make a $3 million donation to the Archdiocese if they would give THEM the Church, a move endorsed by all Parishioners of Holy Trinity. The $2.3 million Braintree now wants for Holy Trinity is a major discount to sell to someone who will demolish it, not restore. That does not serve the interests of the Catholic Church but DOES serve the financial interests of Developers who own land nearby.

  6. K&JSR says:

    Another point that does not seem to be understood by commenters on the Insider.

    The Vigils SHOULD be irrelevant. There is a requirement to maintain the Churches if there is an APPEAL, whether there are protesters in them or not. The Vigilers occupied their Churches because they did not trust the Archdiocese to fulfill its responsibilities. The Holy Trinity bungle reinforces that impression, and apart from the Church law implications, is a significant Public relations bungle.

  7. K&JSR says:

    Also, I need to correct a major mistake in “Monica”‘s blog. “no longer essential to the mission of the Church” is a valid reason (called just cause) to reorganize a Parish, or how the people are administered. It is NOT sufficient reason nor a description of Relegation. Relegation requires a “grave cause”, which is a MUCH MUCH MUCH higher standard. Rome gives Bishops great latitude in changing how people and their Sacramental needs are administered. Parishes’ Canonical status often changes many times, without perceptible change in life, for instance, from Mission church, to Parish to Chapel, to Order Church.

    Relegation is a much more serious matter, and whereas appeals of Parish changes are almost never overturned, appeals of Relegation to the Profane are overturned by Rome, not often, but with regularity. This second round of Boston appeals is only just beginning now,and will probably take as long or longer than the first .

    • Boston Catholic Insider says:

      K&JSR,
      Thanks for your comments. We have modified the wording in the post to address that mistake and point of confusion.

    • Objective Observer says:

      Grave cause is a higher standard, but is just as subjective. For example, the condition of the structure, if sufficiently compromised, could qualify as grave cause.

      • Serviam says:

        Condition of Structure which was not an issue in this case could be just as subjective, depending on the motivation(s) of the Seller. I know, I was a member of this parish and am in a Professional position to make this call. Whether it has been allowed to deteriorate with no utilities and poor security (and subsequent vandalism) is another issue. since

  8. Charlie says:

    It’s a travesty that this beautiful church is up for sale. Remember the other Archdiocesan church that was sold to a straw for peanuts and then resold for much more? Holy Trinity is a part of Boston’s Catholic patrimony. I pray the sale will be halted.

  9. Cardinal O'Connell says:

    Wondering why the Archdiocese set an asking price on this property when most other churches are sold on the basis of a request for proposals? Why a residential brokerage firm? This isn’t a South End condo.

  10. anonymous says:

    Sell the churches and fund the pension!

    • Angry Parish Council Member says:

      They have already sold churches and not funded the pension from the proceeds as they promised they would. Why trust that promises will be kept this time around? I think they should first fund the pension from the places they were supposed to fund it from.

      Why should anyone believe selling more churches now will suddenly now enable a corrupt diocese to fulfill previous promises?

      If churches need to be sold for other reasons, that is a different issue.

    • Serviam says:

      …and what’s left for the next generation following this? Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

  11. q says:

    The South Cove nursing home (related) has guaranteed a major developer that it will build a project to offset set-asides needed for a luxury development downtown. They have no place or permits, but are on a deadline. Coincidence with the NEED to sell Holy Trinity?

    http://www.bostonherald.com/business/real_estate/view/2011_0311boston_oks_kensington_apartment_project_for_downtown/

    Boston OKs Kensington apartment project for downtown
    By Herald Staff
    Friday, March 11, 2011 – Updated 5 days ago

    The city has approved a developer’s $172 million plan for a 27-story apartment building in downtown Boston.The Boston Redevelopment Authority gave the OK last night to The Kensington, a 385-unit tower with 110 garage parking spaces, at the corner of Washington and LaGrange streets.

    “We’re excited at the prospect of further solidifying the appeal of this neighborhood with a world-class building that will enjoy extraordinary street presence and exceptional accessibility to virtually all of the attractions that make the city of Boston one of the most desirable places to live in the world,” said Alan Lewis, owner of Grand Circle Travel and Kensington Investment Co. Inc.

    The developer pledged to provide $7.4 million to Hong Lok House, an affordable assisted-living facility in Chinatown, to help create 75 housing units for seniors.

    The Kensington’s ground floor will offer retail and office space, part of it at below-market rents for local nonprofit groups, the developer said.

    A groundbreaking is set for this summer, with completion of the building after about two years. The project will create an estimated 400 construction jobs.
    -bizsmart@bostonherald.com

  12. Quality Guy says:

    I get more cynical daily !
    Why not sell ALL of the Church properties, close up ‘shop’ and use the $$ to fund the pensions and ‘pay off’ the good priests with a decent pension and let them find an accomodating diocese who could accept them w/o any obligation to pay them a stipend ??
    We have come a very long way from the 1834 burning of the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown !

  13. K&JSR says:

    If you want to see an example of a warning letter from the Vatican NOT to do what the Archdiocese just did, it is available as pdf, and was recently sent to the Chancery.

    http://www.holytrinitygerman.org/Suppression/Signatura-Decree-2.pdf

    “In regard to the question of the closing of the church building, it has not been
    established from the documents present in the case file that the reduction of the church to
    profane use, that is, its definitive closure, has been decreed by the Archbishop and
    confirmed by the Congregation for the Clergy. In any event, the requirements of canon 1222
    would have to be observed fully and, if the sale of the church is contemplated, all the
    pertinent requirements of universal and particular law would have to be met, including, if
    such is the case, can. 1292, § 2, with due regard for the rights of those Christian faithful
    having a legitimate interest to challenge such a decision according to the rules of the law.”

    Translated; the appeals of PARISH closing have nothing to do with the separate appeals of CHURCH closings. DO NOT skip the necessary steps of FIRST consulting Parishioners or interested parties, OR of letting the Vatican speak FIRST if there is an appeal.

  14. [...] Warned Boston Archbishop: No Sale Without Due Process In response to our last post, “Boston Church Asks Vatican to Stop its Sale,” a reader, “K&JSR” just posted this comment that we thought is worth sharing with all [...]

  15. [...] Church Asks Vatican to Stop its Sale,” a reader, “K&JSR” just posted this comment that we thought is worth sharing with all [...]

  16. John D says:

    Based on the behavior of several of the Holy Trinity parish council members just before the final closing, the archdiocese had “help” in preventing a vigil. Those who continue to harp and harp on this site about canon law, relegation, etc., have learned nothing! The “people” in the chancery will not be moved by any canonical processes. The only thing they understand is a hardball approach re: the financial shenanigans performed at H.T. and St. James parish.Where did the $$ taken in from the “parish maintenance collections really go? That should have been taken to the maximum public limit possible. You cannot deal nobly with clergy who care notheing about the eternal salvation of the parishioners. “Social Justice” and money are all they’re interested in. But it’s too late now….

  17. [...] two weeks ago, the efforts by the archdiocese to sell Holy Trinity in Boston.  As you may recall, former parishioners at Holy Trinity Church in the South End asked the Vatican to stop any sale of th… after it was listed for sale  at $2.3 million on Sothebys, a residential real estate site. They [...]

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