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.
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:
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.
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?