Many readers who have read about the new initiative seeking public comment on the future use of seven closed parishes have asked what BCI thinks. Today we are pleased to share some of our take on what is happening. To cut to the chase, we have mixed thoughts.
The Boston Globe entitled their article, “A step toward selling churches.” Though the Globe of course tells you only a piece of the story, they did get it right that this is a next step in the process of selling the churches. They are correct that the effort to “relegate to profane use,’’ is the canon law phrase for converting property from sacred to secular use. When a Church is “relegated to profane use, ” it would follow a determination by the ordinary that this property is no longer essential to the mission of the Church. “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). Here is the archdiocesan Policy on the Sale Church Buildings.
Having an open consultation process on the “relegation to profane use” stage of the church closing and property sale certainly makes for good PR, so Terry Donilon is feeling good about this. And for a diocese that goes to great lengths to avoid risk, embarrassment, and bad press, it is understandable why they have gone this route. The Pilot reported:
Earlier this year, in the Diocese of Allentown, Pa., the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy upheld appeals from parishioners of seven closed parishes challenging the diocese’s right to relegate the churches to profane use while agreeing with the diocese’s decision merge the parishes into a new parish.
The decision regarding the parishes in Springfield was that the Diocese of Springfield followed proper procedures in suppressing three parishes, but did not sufficiently justify closing the three church buildings.
No doubt, these decisions made a few people at 66 Brooks Drive skittish. We are told the survey is the result of some consultation and collaboration between the canon law people in the archdiocese, a regional bishop, and the Catholic Media group. Anyone familiar with the Boston Catholic Mens and Womens conferences will immediately recognize the Zoomerang survey approach used.
If this is ultimately a matter of just “dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s” on selling the buildings, then it will probably be OK. The parish closings and suppressions have already been upheld, so this is only limited to the matter of the sale of the buildings and relegation to profane use. The good news is that if a broad cross-section of people respond, it will take the conversation out of the hands of Peter Borre and his “Council of Parishes.” If many people do complete the survey, the restrictions could serve to make it a valid instrument: respondents have to identify themselves by name, address, and their amount of time worshiping in the closed parish, and it is open for a limited period of time.
But we are not quite so ready give it two thumbs up. Here is why:
- This is not an archdiocese prone to good decision-making. Every consultative process and committee we have seen in recent years ends up with mixed results, and this could result in avoidance of making more tough decisions. One might reasonably ask why this was not undertaken six years ago, when the parishes were closed. Or, why was the consultation not initiated last July, after the Apostolic Signatura rejected the final appeals?
- Peter Borre and his Council of Parishes crew will no doubt try to stuff the ballot box with input. It is positive that local parishes are publicizing this in their bulletins and all respondents have to identify themselves. This should prevent most fraud. Still, the small minority of people vocally opposed to selling the building are already being actively encouraged to respond, while the silent majority who have happily moved on to other parishes do not have a similar motivation to give input. So the opinions of the small minority could prevail in the final tally over the silent majority.
- The questions neglect to mention some important points. Nothing is mentioned about the cost of maintaining the buildings. Why not include questions like:
- “Maintaining these closed parishes is costing the Boston Archdiocese between $500K-850K/year. Should this parish be sold to pay its overdue bills?”
- “If the parish should not be sold, who should pay these bills?” How would you feel about people in neighboring parishes paying the bills?”
By the way, could someone fix the pulldown with the listings of what parish you currently belong to? The alphabetical order in the pulldown has 3 different sets of alphabetical listings, so if you, hypothetically speaking, live in a town like Wellesley and want to choose which parish you worship at, you will find that St. Paul in Wellesley is in an entirely different part of the pulldown vs St. John the Evangelist in Wellesley Hills.
In the end, canon law says that relegation to profane use is done by the bishop after hearing the Presbyteral Council, but he can choose to ask others. This opens the door to people thinking the survey input may be interpreted as a binding vote and not a consultation. The flipside of that argument is that if a legitimate consultation beyond the Presbyteral Council is undertaken, then the vigil protesters lose any remaining loopholes to try and exploit.
Lastly, we were mildly amused by the comments by the Vicar General in The Pilot:
He added that the consultation process illustrates Cardinal O’Malley’s commitment to transparency. “To rebuild the Church we need to rebuild trust and engage the faithful at all levels to be active parts of the Catholic community,” Father Erikson said.
If they want to rebuild trust and engage the faithful, how about practicing the “commitment to transparency” by releasing the fundraising results from the Campaign for Catohlic Schools’ “2010 Initiative” and the 2010 Catholic Appeal?
How about releasing the names of the people on the Finance Council Compensation Committee, and a timeframe for when they will reduce salaries of excessively paid lay cabinet officials? How about a survey to ask if they should save $1M in unnecessary cost by cutting the excessive six-figure salaries of Mary Grassa O’Neill, Beirne Lovely, and a few others?
How about a survey to ask if the term of the Chancellor should be renewed or if they should initiate an open search for a new Chancellor?
How about a survey to ask if Jack Connors and the Chancellor’s masterminding, running and promoting the “sham search” for the new secretary for institutional advancement, is cause for them to be removed from the Finance Council?
How about a survey to ask if Cardinal O’Malley should slash his outside-the-diocese travel and spend more of the next few months and next year governing in Boston?
How about a survey to ask about the confidence level people have in the management/administration and funding of the Clergy Retirement Fund and Lay Employee Pension Fund?
We understand that the intention is good behind this latest consultative effort, and maybe this will work out fine. We hope and pray it does, and encourage parishioners of the closed parishes to respond to the survey. But we still remain skeptical until we see how it evolves.