Vigil Vigilance

In our recent post, Chancellor Spills Beans, about how Chancellor Jim McDonough let slip word a week ago about a future wave of parish consolidation, we said we would cover this topic in more detail, and now that we have gotten all of our facts straight, we are pleased to resume today.

Before we get into plans for future “re-reconfiguration” of parishes, we want to answer questions about why vigils in shuttered parishes are still taking place today.  Given the total cost in the archdiocese’s annual reports for “maintaining the remaining suppressed properties” adds up to more than $10 million over recent years and $1.5 million in 2009 alone, we thought you might want to know what the archdiocese could have done previously (but did not) to end the vigils sooner, and what the archdiocese can still do today (but is not).

At $1.5 million per year in cost in the annual report (whose actual disposition we cannot yet fully determine), that comes to about $4,100 per day in expense to “maintain” these properties.  Who is it in the archdiocese that would advocate continuing to spend that money or would oppose decisive action to halt the red-ink?  Hang on a minute—we will get there.

The need to close as many as 60 parishes was publicly disclosed by Cardinal Law back in 1998 to address long-standing issues of declining Mass attendance and declining numbers of priests–well before the financial crunch and sexual abuse crisis hit the Church.  That all went on hold for several years, so by 2004-2006, Chancery people and pastors in parishes all knew that reconfiguration was essential, even though few people may have been willing to say so publicly.

Closings and Vigils in 2004-2005

Most closings happened peacefully in 2004-2005, but vigils sprang up at a handful of parishes–St. James the Great in Wellesley, St Jeremiah in Framingham, Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Boston, St. Frances X. Cabrini in Scituate, and St. Therese in Everett. The vigils started in late 2004 when the archdiocese announced plans to shut 66 parishes, and these five churches have been occupied by parishioners who protested the parish closings by refusing to leave the buildings. The occupancies have been largely staffed by people who were not known to be very active in the parish prior to the decision to close the parish. (By coincidence, some of the suburban vigil protesters might just happen to have property abutting the church and just may have not kept secret their desire to avoid Chapter 40B affordable housing next-door if and when those church properties were redeveloped). The last stage possible of their canonical appeals was exhausted in July, when the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court, rejected canon law appeals from supporters of nine closed parishes (five of which maintained vigils).

Why have the vigils gone on so long?  Why were they not broken up shortly after they started?  Back in 2004-05, Cardinal O’Malley was advised by pastors, lawyers, real estate people and canon lawyers to end the vigils through a structured conflict resolution process that included requiring people to leave immediately. (That did not mean the churchs would have been sold or canonical appeals denied–it just meant that occupied vigils would have ended).  There was one person who advised differently.

Fr. Bryan Hehir said that he knew more about these things from when he was at Harvard in 1969 and saw what happened during the Harvard student occupation of the University Hall administration building.  [The April 1969 protest was organized by the Harvard chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) primarily over the escalating war in Vietnam,  and protesters demanded Harvard end its Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program. Though the demonstrators had forcibly removed administrators and staff from the building and vowed non-violent resistance when they occupied the building, they started to air private personnel files they found inside, so in the early hours of April 10th, 1969, university administrators called in city and state police.  The cops used billy clubs and mace to remove the demonstrators, and the results were not pretty.  Note: by coincidence, we discovered that the SDS used the same “clenched fist” symbol of resistance/unity that Caritas Christi uses in their new branding and advertising, which coincidentally was developed by the advertising firm run by Jack Connors’ son, John Connors, Jr. But we digress].

Regardless, here we were 35 years later in 2004 instead of the ‘60s, with a different problem, and an entirely different generation and circumstance. We are told from several sources that the incredibly persuasive Fr. Hehir dusted off his memories from 1969 and managed to convince Cardinal O’Malley and others that the parish occupations would end of their own lack of steam within six weeks–and if another more active approach was taken, the Archbishop of Boston might end up lambasted on the front pages of the Boston Globe and New York Times.

As we all know by now, there are three things this archdiocese dreads—lawsuits, loss of money, and bad publicity.  Apparently Cardinal  O’Malley listened to Fr. Hehir, and the vigils were allowed to peacefully proceed.  We are told that Cardinal O’Malley, along with Fr. Hehir and Ann Carter of PR firm Rasky Baerlein, then drafted his November 2004 letter to everyone in the archdiocese in which he said, “At times I ask God to call me home and let someone else finish this job.”

The letter, of course, went over like a lead balloon.  Many priests were upset because they were ready and willing to work on parish closings due to sheer necessity and were on the front lines doing so, but they did not see the commitment matched higher up in the archdiocesan food-chain. (Cardinal O’Malley tried to recover from that letter  in 2006 and 2008 Boston Globe interviews).  As we said previously, the rest of the closings ultimately proceeded as smoothly as could be expected, though some were revisited and revised by the Meade-Eisner Commission.

2010 Vigil Situation

So, here we sit in 2010 not merely six weeks after the vigils started but at six years later.  The decree from the Apostolic Signature was announced on July 15.  That was 86 days ago.  In mid-September, the Boston Globe reported that the Archdiocese was calling meetings with the vigil leaders to try and peacefully end the remaining vigils.  (Note to archdiocese: sending Jim McDonough out to Our Lady of Mount Carmel does not seem to have moved the proverbial peanut forward at all.  If the archdiocese had paid attention to the “F-bombs” the Chancellor drops in most meetings except those including the Cardinal or reached out to the anonymous bloggers here at Boston Catholic Insider, we could have told them to send someone else before they wasted the opportunity and set themselves back. Do yourselves a favor and do not have the Chancellor meet with any more vigil groups.)

What to do now?

One simple recommendation for the vigils is already in the grasp of the archdiocese.  In case Vicar General Fr. Richard Erikson, Cardinal O’Malley, and others responsible for ending the vigils have now been deluded by Fr. Hehir into thinking that this is still a time for putative dialogue, let this blog be on the record as saying we think that is the wrong approach.  It is time to simply say that no one may come into the building.  Anyone inside is free to stay, but no one and nothing may enter the building now.  That is how the archdiocese prevented all the attempted vigils after St. Jeremiah in Framingham started in 2005, and it is a civilized, non-confrontational, responsible way to deal with them.

The proverbial “vigil-meter” is running.  86 days at $4,100/day (based on 2009 annual report, unless the archdiocese corrects that number for us), which means about $350,000 in unnecessary cost that could be put toward the Clergy Retirement Fund or other pastoral works of the Church. (Yes, we know that some of this money is being spent on other things that we cannot wrap our hands around.  And yes, we know that the cost does not drop to zero the moment the vigil occupants leave.  But, the buildings need to be secured and the properties prepared for sale, and that all cannot happen while people are still occupying them).  We all know that the buildings could not be sold until the canonical appeals had finished, but the cost to “maintain the suppressed properties” IS under the control of the archdiocese.

In the Cardinal’s 2004 letter, he said, “If difficult decisions are not made now, the mission of the Church will be seriously compromised in the future.”   Start with the “difficult decision” to end the vigils.  Then you might want to also look at some “difficult decisions” in Cabinet leadership.  Does anyone else agree this is the time for “difficult decisions” in order to assure the mission of the Catholic Church in Boston for the future?

Best wishes for a blessed weekend.

ps. Please note an urgent prayer request.  We just received word that the young daughter of a local Catholic family has just died and been brought home to God.  Please pray for them.

13 Responses to Vigil Vigilance

  1. Carolyn says:

    In the midst of all the discussion above, let us not forget the tens of thousands of people who moved on, many with real sorrow, to their new parish homes. They have stepped up to assist at liturgies, organize parish events and work with religious education programs. My parish immediately elected a new parish council comprised of mezza-mezza, the welcomers and the welcomed, and things have only gotten better from there. It would be nice if just once, the vast majority who are working with the program, rolling up their sleeves and cautiously opening their wallets would get the attention that the bellicose and “activist” crowd does. So a tip of the hat to the parishioners, staffs and priests who have made the transition, and who only want it to work.

  2. Carolyn says:

    PS – Prayers for the child and her family underway. May she rest in peace, and may her family endure in God’s love.

  3. clem kadiddlehopper says:

    Per your link to the BBJ, 12/2008:
    “Caritas Christi Health Care has selected Boathouse Group Inc. as its new lead advertising agency, the health care system said on Monday.

    Waltham, Mass.-based Boathouse replaces Wallwork Curry McKenna, a Boston agency, as the incumbent. There was no agency review and billings for the account were not disclosed.”

    That is fascinating intelligence. How are Caritas contracts normally awarded? No competition? Did Jack Wallwork, a Hill Holliday alum, just move over for ‘Jack Junior?’ I read further that John Connors, founder of Boathouse, wants to make Caritas a “forward looking brand.” Well, he went back to the future for his clenched fist campaign.

    Will Cerberus have an agency review? Inquiring minds want to know.

  4. Angry Parish Council Member says:

    Looks like they went back to the future for the clenched fist ad campaign just like Fr. Hehir seems to have gone back to 1983 and recycled some of his NCCB “Challenge of Peace” pacifist recommendations on nuclear disarmament to apply toward the church vigils. I wonder when Fr. Hehir and others will start to realize most of his “big ideas” from the past ended up being WRONG-O.

    Speaking of the clenched fist, did you notice who else uses it as their symbol?! See: Raised fist at wikipedia

    “The raised fist (also known as the clenched fist) is a salute and logo most often used by left-wing activists, such as: Marxists, anarchists, socialists, communists, pacifists, trade unionists, and black nationalists.” Is that an example of the Catholic identity Caritas is going to be maintaining going forward with Cerberus? I know Cerberus is off-topic, but I couldn’t resist.

  5. Disgusted Boston Priest says:

    Catholic identity?

    That’s G-O-N-E gone already, and if you look at their advertising (use the blog’s Caritas link) you notice two things:

    – The name “Caritas Christi” may be spoken (once) during the ad, but the brand mark is “Caritas.” The “Christi” is already missing. It’s no longer “the love of Christ” but “love.”

    – Nowhere in the ad or on their website is there any mention of the hospitals’ Christian (never mind CATHOLIC) identity. The focus is on neighborhoods.

    Why should anybody be surprised that Fr. Hehir and the Connors clan are midway through the secularization of the Catholic healthcare system? Hehir’s rallying cry is “the Church has always cooperated with the state” and Connors’ is “how can I look good while making as much money as possible for myself?”

    Our Church in Boston is soon going to be G-O-N-E gone too if we don’t do something about it N-O-W.

  6. PriestsForTransparency.com says:

    Great comment, and well said, “Disgusted Boston Priest”.

    Anyone know of a good comprehensive definition of Catholic Identity? Or comprehensive list of attributes of a Catholic that exhibits strong Catholic identity?

    I started to think up my own list and thought someone else has likely already done the work.

  7. Jack O'Malley says:

    PriestsForTransparency.com: Anyone know of a good comprehensive definition of Catholic Identity?

    Sure.

    An ordained priest. Not an installed presbyter. He offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass ad orientem in the ancient Roman fashion, not the “Lord’s supper” in the protestant Cranmerian fashion. He distributes Holy Communion on the tongue to kneeling faithful at the altar rail. He pronounces the Words of Institution “Mysterium Fidei, qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum.” For many, NOT for all.

    He saves souls. Not bodies. Our Blessed Lord never founded a hospital or an adoption agency or a school. But He did say, “go ye and teach all nations.”

    Do that, you are a priest. Don’t do it, you are a protestant heretic. “Feed my sheep.” Screw “Catholic social justice.” Marxist liberation theologian wolves fleecing the flock. Vade retro Satana.

  8. […] around something much more important than the goings-on in the Archdiocese of Boston, including the ongoing parish “vigils” we last wrote […]

  9. Quality Guy says:

    Jack O’M. sounds like a recidivist dinosaur ! though when I reasd hispost to my wife , she said”bring him to me” , “I love him ” but then she is a traditionalist !

  10. Jack O'Malley says:

    QG wrote: Jack O’M. sounds like a recidivist dinosaur

    Thanks for the compliment! Not just a dinosaur but a recidivist one at that. I’m not getting older just getting better. 😉

    As George M. Cohan said, “I don’t care what you call me as long as you mention my name.”

    BTW, your wife sounds like too fine a lady for a stark raving progressivist like you.🙂

  11. […] and in some cases more than six years after they were ordered closed.  Cost to the archdiocese is more than $1.5 million per year, yet no one has the guts to simply block people from entering the churches and thereby end the […]

  12. […] to allow new people to enter the buildings. As we reported more than 3 months ago (on October 9) in Vigil Vigilance, we know from the annual report by the archdiocese that the cost to maintain all closed church […]

  13. […] one, even though they were long ago proven wrong.  As we wrote in October of 2010 in our post, Vigil Vigilance, the solution is straightforward: One simple recommendation for the vigils is already in the grasp […]

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