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.”
“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.
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.”
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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?