St. Francis of Assisi Parish Closing: Response from Fr. Carreiro

BCI has gotten a fair amount of critical feedback on our last post, Cambridge Church Closing Calamity, where we discussed the news that St. Francis of Assisi in Cambridge will be closing.

Fr. Walter Carreiro, Vicar Forane and pastor of the designated “welcoming” parish, St. Anthony of Padua, sent us an email and posted an almost identical version of the email in comments. He took the time to write and to express concerns with the post by BCI, so we felt it appropriate to share his message in a dedicated blog post.  We will make brief comments following his letter, and we will post additional comments in a separate post. Here is his unedited message:

I would think that a journalist would at least attempt to get both sides of a story prior to publishing something with a potential to misconstrue events and statements.

I have included here the letter I wrote for our parish bulletin at St. Anthony Parish. This letter was written on Sunday, November 20, since it had to be at the publisher by November 21 due to the Thanksgiving holiday. Immediately following is a link to the publishers archive of our bulletin so that you may see it in the published format, including the Portuguese translation.

Greetings,

By now you have all heard the news about Saint Francis of Assisi Parish. It was in 2008 that the provincial of the Franciscans of the Immaculate Conception province wrote a letter to Cardinal Sean stating that when Fr. Norbert DeAmato retired they would no longer to staff the parish. At that time Cardinal Sean wrote a letter to the Vicar General, Bishop Hennessey and me stating that it was his thought that since St. Francis, being an Italian Personal parish and St. Anthony, being a Portuguese Personal parish that it made sense for the two to be merged with the eventual closure of St. Francis. At that time Bishop Hennessey and I met with Fr. Norbert to explain to him that at long as he chose to remain there that there would be no change in the status of St. Francis Parish. Just a few weeks ago Fr. Norbert, with his doctor and the provincial determined that it would be best for his health to step down as pastor. Another Franciscan Friar, Fr. Richard Donovan was assigned to be the temporary administrator. It was clear then that this was just to be temporary.

A couple of weeks ago a number of us, including Fr. Primo, the Franciscan Provincial from New York, met in Braintree to determine how we would go forward with St. Francis parish. It was prior to that meeting that I was asked to consider being administrator of the parish to work with the parishioners to bring it to closure. Realizing the difficulty of this transition I accepted this responsibility, naturally with a heavy heart of having to break the news to the parishioners. Cardinal Sean has continued in his belief that it makes sense for St. Anthony to be the welcoming parish for the people of the parish and for those things that are dear to the parishioners, statues, etc. It was because of this that I was at all the Masses this weekend at St. Francis. You can imagine the feelings that were present among the people. They were very kind to me but it’s natural that people would be angry, in tears, wanting to bargain and figure out how the parish could stay open. As you can well imagine it is as if they were being told that a loved one had a terminal illness and that death was inevitable and imminent. As I told them, there is no definite date when the parish will close. I will continue to meet with a group of parishioners there to determine what would be the best way to go forward taking into account any important events yet to occur there and how we will commemorate the move from St. Francis up the street to St. Anthony. I know that I can count on you to be welcoming to our brothers and sisters from there. I know that together we will make this as positive of an experience for them and make room for them here. As well, we will make room for their statues and those things which have made their experience as a parish dear to them. As the Archdiocese moves to a new model of parish configuration this is a good experience for us to challenge ourselves to be ever more open to all who come to St. Anthony to worship and, more importantly, to be a part of our family here.

As our responsibility as priests here expands this has necessitated a change in the schedule of Masses, which is included below. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Peace & Blessings, Fr. Walter

ST. FRANCIS ST. ANTHONY SACRED HEART
DAY TIME TIME TIME
Sabado/SAT. NO MASS 4:00 PM (& 5:30 PM) 5:00 PM
Domingo/SUN. 9:00 & 10:30 (8:00) 9:45 7:30, 9:00
(11:30 AM & 7:00 PM) & 11:00 AM
2a/MON. 7:00 AM (6:30 PM) 9:00 AM
3a/TUES. 12:10 PM (6:30 PM) 6:00 PM
4a/WED. 7:00 AM (6:30 PM) 9:00 AM
5a/THUR. NO MASS (9:00 AM & 6:30 PM) 6:00 PM
ADORATION: 9:30 – 6:00
6a/FRI. 7:00 AM (6:30 PM) 9:00 AM
Masses in parenthesis are celebrated in Portuguese Missas entre parenthesis são celebradas em português.

http://parishbulletin.com/Bulletins/935/935_Anthony_Cam_1127.pdf

There is much more to write and to refute, both in what was related to you, and how you chose to present that information. Let’s not forget that there are two sides to every story and an attempt should be made to not be so one-sided. I was not approached nor was an attempt to communicate with me made in any way.
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Walter Carreiro (correct spelling)

We appreciate Fr. Carreiro taking the time to write.  We have time to just say a few things in response in this post for this moment.

He is correct that BCI did not approach him or attempt to communicate with him. Why is that?  Two reasons.  First, as we said in our previous post, we did call St. Francis of Assisi to ask about the rumor of the parish closing on Saturday Nov. 19, and the priest who answered the phone denied the rumored closing and said there would merely be a change in Mass schedule announced. Keep in mind, the closing had already been announced to selected parishioners a few days earlier, and it was announced several hours later to all of the parishioners. (As the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me”).  Secondly, the lack of response by virtually everyone in the archdiocesan hierarchy to inquiries by BCI over the past year–and to complaints by faithful Catholics–has led us to conclude it is generally not worth the time and trouble to even try reaching out to ask for comments or additional perspectives on a story. Based on Fr. Walter’s thoughtful and insightful response, we regret that we did not reach out to him.

Lastly for now, it also remains unclear to BCI, even from the response by Fr. Walter, what major details of our original post are considered inaccurate and thus would need to be refuted. Fr. Walter is a fine, honest devout priest, who confers the sacraments fluently in Portuguese. The Wednesday evening meeting with selected parishioners was blunt and confrontational as reported. Communications with St. Francis parishioners have not been good–as exemplified by the above letter being published in the St. Anthony parish bulletin, but NOT in the bulletin of  St. Francis, the parish actually being closed!  No written announcement has appeared in the St. Francis bulletin, and many of their elderly parishioners who are homebound rely solely on the bulletin for official parish news. A St. Francis parishioner commented to us via email, “Yikes, should I be learning of the process from him via your blog?? ”  A developer was apparently tipped off before the parishioners were notified. There has been no public decree.

The details that could potentially be refuted from our original post where we have now learned more are the following:
–Fr. Norbert is 89-years-old, not 92 and he apparently is not ill, but was advised by doctors and his provincial to give up the pastor role at the parish for health reasons
–Bishop Hennessey was apparently not notified of the Nov. 16 meeting at the parish
–The reason for St. Anthony being designated the welcoming parish is because Cardinal O’Malley thought it was a good idea
–Communications between the Franciscans and the archdiocese about what would happen to St. Francis after Fr. Norbert retired took place in 2008, (3-4 years ago) and not five years ago, as BCI said. Apparently the communications took place via letter correspondence at the time.

Though we do not believe any of those details are major in nature or would have substantially altered the message of our last post, we apologize for any errors.  More in a next post.

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10 Responses to St. Francis of Assisi Parish Closing: Response from Fr. Carreiro

  1. rf5580 says:

    This post is really excellent. I hope the archdiocese takes note of your fairness, insight, patience and humility.

  2. Objective Observer says:

    For me the largest concerns are that Father Couturier and Bishop Hennessey are not sufficiently involved in direct contact with the parishioners. It’s not like there are 60 parishes being closed at once this time. The statement that Bishop Hennessey was UNAWARE that the meeting would take place is the brightest red flag. The central region is a busy place. Having lived here for about 10 years, I can attest to the fact that there is never a dull moment. That said, it’s Bishop Hennessey’s job, and he has all the authority, short of being ordinary. So he also is held to all the accountability.

    His fondness for travel, especially to Rome and to Florida, is as well known as his stentorian voice. When a parish is designated to be consolidated in any other way than the assignment of one pastor to two parishes, the first person in the meeting should be the regional bishop. So as others have said here, you schedule the meeting so that the regional bishop is present.

    Father Couturier should also have been present. His sole responsibility as a cabinet secretary (according to the RCAB website) is parish planning. The buck rests on his desk until it goes to the auxiliary bishop. His job is to work with parishes, not paper. He should have been present and wearing his Capuchin habit. His absence tends to indicate that he was not thinking like a Franciscan (that is the most diplomatic way I can put it).

    Father Carreiro is, from all accounts, a good priest, and he may well be a good vicar forane. But the reality is that the “meeting with parishioners” should have been a meeting of the pastoral planning council, the finance council, the administrator, Father Couturier and Bishop Hennessey. Father Carreiro could certainly have been present at the first meeting, but the message, the reasons and the answers to initial questions should have been provided by the two men whose job it is to oversee the consolidation of parishes in the central region.

    Saint Anthony being made the welcoming parish “because the cardinal thought it was a good idea,” tends to indicate that the cardinal, and those whose job it is to tell him the facts, had no idea what the reality is on the ground is in that part of Cambridge. In the past ten years, we have seen a lot of consolidation, and we all know that people tend to go where it makes sense for them, and not necessarily where “the cardinal thinks is a good idea.”

    Who tipped off the developer? This happened at my parish — a vehicle from a well known commercial real estate developer was parked in front of our church, and two men with measuring wheels and digital cameras were walking around the property. When asked by an abutter what their interest was in the property, they replied, “Condos.” This happened before we were told we were closing, and that company ended up with the property. What a coincidence…

    The decision to close a parish can only be validly undertaken AFTER consultation with the lay faithful. That doesn’t mean they get to vote on it, but it does mean you have to give them an opportunity to be heard before the decision is actually made. Where canon law looks for a process of consultation, it appears that there was none before this meeting.

    From what Father Carreiro wrote, and from the absence of Bishop Hennessey and Father Couturier, it appears Father Carreiro was not supported appropriately by his regional bishop nor by the central administration cabinet secretary responsible for this work. This will not come as a shock, I think, to any priests who may be reading this.

    While this lack of appropriate support for the presbyterate is always hard on the priest who must endure it, and empathy goes to Father Carreiro, it is much harder on the lay faithful who must not only endure the brunt of the impact, but must also despair at yet another magnificent example of the utter disarray in the central administration of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. Leadership vacuums get filled by the first party who sees an opportunity. And that is the real problem in Braintree.

  3. Mark Frances says:

    I enjoyed the response from rf5580. All that I can respond is “wow”! Obviously, the archdiocese of Boston has become “one giant Skinner box.

  4. Carolyn says:

    Father Carreiro thought to lead the people of Saint Anthony in thinking about the changes that WELCOMING would bring, which is a good thing. His efforts included telling them:

    **A couple of weeks ago a number of us, including Fr. Primo, the Franciscan Provincial from New York, met in Braintree to determine how we would go forward with St. Francis parish. It was prior to that meeting that I was asked to consider being administrator of the parish to work with the parishioners to bring it to closure. Realizing the difficulty of this transition I accepted this responsibility, naturally with a heavy heart of having to break the news to the parishioners. Cardinal Sean has continued in his belief that it makes sense for St. Anthony to be the welcoming parish for the people of the parish and for those things that are dear to the parishioners, statues, etc.**

    So the Franciscan provincial could schedule a trip to Boston, and a sizable meeting could take place in Braintree, and all discussion be about that fact that St Francis WILL close, even down to details of Mass schedules, and Father Carreiro could think to begin to prepare the St Anthony parishioners, and not one of these opportunities involved even one parishioner from St Francis?

    Later, Father Carreiro, who I think should NOT be faulted here, states:

    **I will continue to meet with a group of parishioners there to determine what would be the best way to go forward taking into account any important events yet to occur there and how we will commemorate the move from St. Francis up the street to St. Anthony.**

    If it is true that canon law requires prior consultation with the people BEFORE a decision is made to close a parish, why is the steamroller rolling? Why aren’t the people asked where they see themselves going? Why isn’t there a clear explanation of the need to close the parish? Why no good faith opportunity for parishioners to be heard before announcing the closing? IF there is a requirement for consultation, can letting the parishioners merely suggest a closing date satisfy that requirement? Does Braintree think no one will appeal this? Has the cardinal learned nothing from the past? At least in 2004 and 2005 there were meetings and letters and recommendations. Why is this bomb drop of “you’re closing” OK?

    RCAB motto: Ready, shoot, aim.

    Jack O, could we get that in Latin so it sounds better?

    • Robert says:

      As I stated before: If Bishop Hennessey was concerned he would of changed the date or set a date that he knew he would be here in Boston. No meeting of this magnitude takes place without his knowledge.
      He could of waited until he returned from Rome, Florda….he did not go to Washington.
      Just wondering………….who singned and sent letters of invitations to NE Bishops about the Party……………Just wondering!

    • marie elena saccoccio says:

      (My post from prior thread)

      Deed reads Archbishop of Boston Corporation Sole. The property is substantial and includes the church proper, the rectory, what used to be the CYO gymnasium or two and a substantial parking lot which was once the location of our two convents. Note the property is located on three streets. Our parochial grammar school was already sold in the late 80′s; hence our coffers exceed $1 million with no debt. Also there is good income from the rental of half the parking lot now. This property is a treasure trove and the church itself is on the National Register of Historic Places. There are existing photos of the Massachusetts Infantry surrounding the church during the civil war and the early parishioners (Baptists) welcoming them.

      Note the Mormons have built a gorgeous temple within walking distance of St. Francis, though they have no parishioners here. They realize that this is the biotech capital of the country, and Northpoint is planning the buildup of 4000 residential units, within a stone’s throw of the neighborhood. Somehow the Mormons have the foresight to see the potential here. The Archdiocese views the same scenario and sees nothing. If this property is sold, the RC Church will never be able to afford a location here.

    • Michael says:

      I took two years of latin … about 30 years ago … so it is a bit rusty. Here goes …
      Paratus, blastius, cuspis

  5. Mack says:

    This post shows the characteristic that makes BCI so unique and a really great blog: if you get something wrong, you admit it, and even apologize. That’s something that the RCAB should imitate. (I’m not speaking of Fr Walter or the other priests here, but the archdiocesan administration.)

    In any case, the point about the developer being notified before the parishioners were told is disheartening.

  6. Michael says:

    I agree … character … that is what BCI is all about. Thank you for your courage and your honesty. It is refreshing.

  7. [...] it was announced in writing to St. Anthony of Padua that neighboring St. Francis would close (in a notice posted here at this blog), yesterday we learned the story is changing. Various archdiocesan officials said publicly  [...]

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