Holy Trinity: Relegation to Profane Use Update

July 8, 2012

With very little public attention, the Boston Archdiocese has undertaken the process of relegating to profane use Holy Trinity Church in Boston. Assuming Holy Trinity is relegated to profane use, the property will be sold. The future of the beautiful neo-gothic style 1877 church building and its potential demolition will likely be tied to large-scale redevelopment of the South End being driven by the City of Boston.

A short bulletin notice at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross says the following from the rector:

Holy Trinity Parish Church: After thought and consideration I have informed the Parish Council on May 9, 2012, that I will petition His Eminence, Sean Cardinal P. O’Malley, OFM, Cap. To begin the process of relegation of Holy Trinity Parish Church from sacred to profane use.

BCI wrote extensively about Holy Trinity in 2011, when the archdiocese listed the property for sale with a realtor but never went through a process of relegating the church to profane use.  See:

Boston Church Asks Vatican to Stop its Sale (March 15, 2011)

NEWSFLASH: Boston Archdiocese Pulls For-Sale Listing of Holy Trinity (March 18, 2011)

More Diocesan Deception (March 19, 2011)

Holy Trinity Trickery (March 31, 2011)

When the property was taken off the market, in 2011, note what the then-Chancellor communicated to former Holy Trinity parishioners:

The second step in this [relegation] process is the consultation of the Catholic faithful. At present, we are in the midst of this stage of the relegation consultation process for seven area churches. Holy Trinity was not included with this grouping because we had not yet obtained the needed information for the consultation. Cardinal O’Malley will be announcing a new series of consultations soon and this grouping will include Holy Trinity Church.

Please be assured that during the planned consultation period, you and all who wish to be heard will have ample opportunity to give your input to Cardinal O’Malley and to Father O’Leary, the pastor of Cathedral Parish, which welcomed the former parishioners of Holy Trinity. I hope that you will take advantage of this opportunity and provide thoughtful comments so that the Cardinal may make an informed and just decision as to the ultimate use of the church building.

Did we and others miss the announcement of the public consultation?  Did it even occur at all?

Here is what is in store for this area:

South End landscape getting a rapid makeover

Anchored by the dramatic rebuilding of the former Boston Herald property, the corridor of blocks between Harrison Avenue and Albany Street could soon host more than 1,000 new units of housing, dozens of new storefronts, improved roads, and new smaller roadways and sidewalks carved out of the large industrial blocks that dominate the area.

Boston Redevelopment Authority: Harrison-Albany Corridor Strategic Plan (South End)

Reader, “Servium” had this to say recently about the fate of Holy Trinity Church:

Its historic and patrimonial significance to the Church and the City of Boston at large should not be minimized. Currently, there is a move afoot by the Boston Redevelopment Authority [BRA] and developers to take the entire block. No longer a place of worship, the political apparatus of the City of Boston has imposed a stiff property tax on the property. The legalized extortion is now forcing the Archdiocese [RCAB]’s hand to unload HTC into the hands of the BRA and interested developers, who have strong ties to both the City and the Pastoral Center. The potential ethical conflict of interest is astounding but continues to fester. Isn’t interesting that Peter Meade that formerly headed the Meade-Eisner Reconfiguration Review Committee for the Cardinal, now heads the BRA. Do you think any inside information has been shared with the City? Have properties been promised political allies before any transaction? One can only conjecture, given the track record exposed on this blog.

We excerpt from a previous post and reader submitted piece to give more details about Holy Trinity:

The beautiful neo-Gothic-style building located on Shawmut Avenue had a turreted white altar flanked by golden angels. Here you can see the now-empty tabernacle between them.

“The thought of what is planned for this Domus Dei (House of God) sickens me,” one concerned parishioner wrote to Boston Catholic Insider last year. “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?”

Holy Trinity was designed by noted architect Patrick Keeley. A massive 2,880-pipe organ dominates the loft; the church can seat 1,200.

At the highest point near the vaulted cathedral ceiling are images of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

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.

In 2008 it was closed and its assets transferred to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. BCI understands from knowledgeable sources that the structural condition of the building may not be good, but in the absence of seeing an independent engineering report, we cannot say unequivocally what condition the building is in today.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

BCI will close with the words of former Vicar General Fr. Erikson, who told Catholic faithful how important it is to consider input from former parishioners before churches are relegated to profane use. 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.”

BCI hates to see any churches sold and/or demolished. Admittedly, BCI has a soft spot for older churches with stunningly beautiful architecture such as Holy Trinity. The relegation to profane use of Holy Trinity and its sale are no doubt a fait accompli.  Has a thorough, thoughtful process of consultation been followed for Holy Trinity?  If so, it has been a rather private one.  To what extent did the RCAB ignore or otherwise dismiss potential Catholic buyers of this building? Are there conflicts of interest in this situation that have not been addressed by key players recusing themselves?

Sadly, this is probably not the last church to be closed and sold off in Boston.  Following an open process, free from conflicts of interest, where the faithful can at least participate and be heard is very important.  Did that happen here, or did it not?  If not, why is it so difficult for this archdiocese to do what they say they will do?

Turning off the heat

October 16, 2011

The Boston Archdiocese is finally getting slightly gutsier in their efforts to shut down the so-called “vigils” in churchs that have been closed for years. But it remains a mystery why they will not just shut-down the vigils and tell the occupants they must leave the buildings.

The Boston Globe reported the following on Saturday, October 15 in “Archdiocese shuts off utilities in Wellesley parish“:

Escalating its standoff with parishioners at a closed church building in Wellesley, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has shut off heat and water at St. James the Great, angering church members who have occupied the church since it was closed in 2004.

The archdiocese, which has taken steps to sell several closed churches including St. James, shut off the boiler because it was deemed unsafe by the church’s insurance company, according to a statement released by the archdiocese yesterday. Officials decided not to repair the heating system and shut it down to prevent damage to the property, a spokesman said…

The archdiocese has continued to maintain the church buildings since the closures; in Wellesley alone, the maintenance costs have totaled $370,000, including repairs and winter snow plowing, during the seven-year period, according to the statement released yesterday.

BCI thinks “turning up the heat” on the protesters by turning off the heat is a step in the right direction, but is still baffled why the archdiocese continues to delay just changing the locks on the doors and telling the people that no one may enter the building. BCI has repeatedly reminded the archdiocese of a prior decision by Cardinal Sean as well as advice given to them previously by their own experts–most recently in January in our post, Free Snow Removal and Invisible Vigils.

As of late 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, and it has obviously gone up since then. Even the archdiocesan spokesman said in that December 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.”  That was three years ago now.

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?

As we have said before, in the beginning, 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 about seven years.

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 now seven years later.  Many parishes are still unable to pay their bills, the pension plan for lay employees has been cut, and the retirement fund for clergy remains in state of danger. The mission of the Church has already been compromised. You and your leadership team have allowed this to drag on for seven years. Even while protesters make a last-ditch effort to appeal the recent relegation to profane use decrees, it makes no sense for them to still occupy the church buildings and cost the archdiocese precious funds for building maintenance and upkeep that could be used for ministry.  How much longer are you waiting in order to make this difficult decision?

Meanwhile, as someone commented in an earlier post, tens of thousands of people from closed parishes have moved on 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.”

BCI would suggest that the Cardinal and Vicar General revisit the words of the Cardinal from seven years ago and decide what is best for the future of the archdiocese–while specifically excluding the PR folks and Fr. Hehir from the decision-making discussions this time around. Let the PR folks know after the tough decisions have been made, and they will figure out a way to spin it.

Enough is Enough: Part 2

July 21, 2011

There was yet another article in the Boston Globe Tuesday sympathetic to the vigilers occupying churches in the Boston archdiocese–this one, about St. Therese in Everett. As we learned last week, the church building will stay open as an oratory of nearby St. Anthony in Everett.  BCI just does not entirely get what the protesters are still after, and must be missing something here.

Entitled, “Vigilers resist church’s conversion plan,” here are some excerpts from the Globe article:

EVERETT – Catholics who have occupied St. Therese Church for seven years vowed last night to continue their vigil, despite a plan by the Archdiocese of Boston to convert it to a chapel for use by the Brazilian Catholic community.

“We are still in vigil and will maintain our vigil,’’ said Joan Shepard, a vigil leader, standing behind an altar. “We feel this decision is a mistake… .. It’s very disrespectful.’’

“Aren’t we all children of God?’’ asked Gloria Young, one of a dozen parishioners seated in pews. “We’ve been sitting here for seven years, and for what? So that someone else can use it?’’…

A dozen supporters of the vigil met last night in the hot, stuffy church to plot their resistance to the archdiocese’s new use for St. Therese.

The church on Broadway is slated to become St. Therese Oratory, part of St. Anthony Parish of Everett. Masses will be offered in Portuguese, to accommodate a growing number of Brazilian immigrants in this city north of Boston seeking to worship in their own language.

“The Brazilian population is a very significant part of the growth of the Catholic Church,’’ said Terrence C. Donilon, the archdiocesan spokesman. “This is going to address their needs long term.’’…

Parishioners at St. Therese said they would not leave the church. Some have spent dozens of nights in the church, even after the archdiocese shut off heat and water after a boiler broke in 2009.

“This just doesn’t seem right,’’ said Carol Tumasz, 53, who moved into the church for a period. “What about the rest of the people?’’

Shepard said she received a phone call from the archdiocese last Thursday, but she is angry they did not receive a letter from O’Malley.

“I have received no official word from the cardinal’s office,’’ she said. “Our families built this church, and we saved it from destruction. It’s unthinkable that we will not be able to worship here.’’

Donilon defended O’Malley and said all Catholics will be welcome at St. Therese Oratory. “I understand the people are sad, but the cardinal has been very patient… . We think this is a good new use for St. Therese.’’

A church building that, as of about a year ago, was doomed to closure and sale was saved. Yet the dozen vigilers are going to continue occupying the space because they are not completely getting their way, and a different Catholic community will use the building who didn’t occupy it for seven years?  Does anyone else besides BCI see some of the quotes in the Globe as just a bit whiney?

Sadly, the Globe reporting still fails to ask some key questions of the people occupying the building and their motives. Beyond that, the history once again validates the diocesan mismanagement we mentioned in our last post.

For example, who exactly are the people occupying the building?  A commenter on this discussion about the closing from 2008 identified as “55 years in Everett” said:

“The people holding the vigil are only a handful and the dollar a week they put in the box won’t pay the bills, that’s for sure. I know people that go down there everyday and sit for two hours at a time and they are not even Catholic! They never went to the church until the vigil started, it’s just a little social gathering for them, and this I know for fact.”

Above and beyond this question, why is the fact that there are 5 other Catholic parishes within a mile and a half away never mentioned?  If you look at the map below, Immaculate Conception in Everett is less than 3/4 of a mile away, just down Broadway, from St. Therese in Everett.  St. Anthony in Everett is 1.1 miles away, and our Lady of Grace in Chelsea is 1.2 miles away.

Two churches in nearby Malden, Sacred Heart (A, in the picture below), and St. Joseph (C in the picture), are also within 1.5 miles away from St. Therese (B).

BCI is curious as to why these 12 people occupying the church would find it so difficult to drive, take public transportation, or get a ride from a neighbor or friend to one of these 5 churches?  Are they even attending Mass on Sundays in an open parish today, or have they been neglecting their Sunday obligation these past 7 years?

Then we have the question of the mismanagement.  As has been said before, for years the archdiocese has really made no effort whatsoever to end the occupancies.  In most parishes, that could have at least saved money on the added costs of maintaining the buildings to residential standards while the parish closings were under appeal.  This March 2009 article confirms the failure of the archdiocese to even try to reclaim the buildings from the protesters:

Similar vigils have taken place elsewhere in the U.S. — including New York City, Kansas and Ohio — but not every diocese has tolerated the dissent. In New Orleans in January, church leaders called in police after two months, and they broke down a door and arrested two protesters as they cleared out two churches.

Sister Marian Batho, an archdiocesan liaison to the Boston area’s occupied churches, said O’Malley wouldn’t consider that approach: “Cardinal Sean is a man of peace.”

O’Malley wants to wait until all the appeals are played out, possibly this spring, and only then approach those refusing to leave, [Sr. Marian] Batho said. “We would hope we could resolve this in a respectful way,” she said.

The vigils are billed as 24 hour-a-day affairs, but some parishioners acknowledge there have been short gaps when no one was occupying a building. The archdiocese does not have the buildings under surveillance, and had no one there to reclaim the churches.

Not even trying to (peacefully) reclaim the churches over the past 7 years when the opportunity has been readily available just seems like mismanagement to BCI. Let the appeals keep running, but to allow people to take up residence in the churches for 7 years does not make sense and suggests weak leadership from on top.

BCI agrees with commenter “Serviam” that Catholic churches are sacred worship spaces that are not just a simple commodity to be bought and sold at will.  It is the place Catholics traditionally expect encountered our Eucharistic Lord both within and outside the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. They were often built and supported with the labor and financial contributions of immigrants. Catholic churches carry important memories of baptisms, first Communions, confirmation, weddings, funerals. The decision to close a church should never be taken lightly and there must be grave reasons to close a church.

But what should happen when most–if not all of the people–who carry these memories and attachments to a particular church have accepted the decision the church had to close for grave reasons and have moved on to another Catholic parish, and what remain are protesters who never had much of an affiliation with the church? Or, in the case of St. Therese, the building was spared, but the protesters are still upset because they cannot have it entirely their way.

Is there something about this that the Globe and archdiocese get, but which BCI is missing?

Enough is Enough

July 18, 2011

Yes, BCI did see the headline and article in the Boston Globe today, “Unwilling to give up their vigil: Parishioners of 6 churches told to close will begin appeals today.”  BCI is as frustrated with this whole ordeal as our readers are, but BCI feels triply frustrated–with the media, for sloppy reporting, with the protesters, for not accepting what has been a foregone conclusion for some time, and with the archdiocese for the mismanagement of the so-called “vigils.”

1. First, the media.  The Globe reports, “Today, all six churches plan to send letters to O’Malley, kicking off an appeals process expected to last two to three years.” BCI is curious as to where in the world that time range comes from? Who exactly “expects” the appeals process to last that long?  Is it Peter Borre of the Council of Parishes?  The Council of Parishes is apparently so incredibly active as an organization that they simply have not even had a minute to update their website in six years, since May of 2005.  They list sixteen parishes as “members,” but ones like Mary Immaculate of Lourdes in Newton and St. Anselm in Sudbury came off the closure list years ago while others have long since closed.  Does Borre’s “Council of Parishes” actually have bylaws, elect officers, meet as a council, take minutes, make collective decisions, etc., or is now really just a virtual organization that gives Borre a platform of credibility from which to speak and be quoted? (Seems to BCI that we may have more people actively involved with this blog than Borre has with his Council of Parishes, so we should create a “Council of BCI” for added credibility, but we digress…)

And never once has a reporter asked the people who are protesting the parish closures exactly what their involvement was with the former parish before it was suppressed.  BCI hears from former parishioners all the time who have moved on to the welcoming parish that those protesting were virtually unknown in the previous parish community before they took up their protest.  Why doesn’t someone from the media ask them what they did before in the parish–were they CCD instructors, Eucharistic ministers, lectors, choir members, members of the Knights of Columbus or Rosary Society or Ladies Sodality, involved in pro-life ministry or the St. Vincent De Paul society?  Why doesn’t the archdiocese ask them, so they know whether the people they are negotiating with even have the standing to have a say in the matter?

2. The protesters.  People commenting on BCI have said it well.  In our post six months ago, “Free Snow Removal and Invisible Vigils”, a reader, “Priest Just Wondering” said:

I’m “JUST WONDERING” what are these groups waiting for? They made request after request to Rome and Rome has spoken…..N O! What part of N or O don’t they understand?

Reader, Carolyn, said just today:

“This morning’s news brings the stunning revelation that the people who have been periodically occupying a handful of closed churches (and based on the one near me, it is anything but 24/7) intend to stay and seek yet another appeal which they believe will take 2-3 years. These are people who in most cases didn’t darken the door of their parish church every Sunday but seem to live nearby enough to worry about the property value.”

If these people really want to participate in the full life of the Catholic Church–meaning receiving the sacraments, worshiping at a Catholic Mass (not a prayer service), and involvement in other ministries with a spiritual community, why would they not just drive a few minutes down the road to the welcoming parish and join that community instead of camping out in a closed church building for 6-7 years?

3. The archdiocese. We have described the problem of archdiocesan mismanagement of the protesting churches multiple times, including in “Vigil Vigilance”,Free Snow Removal and Invisible Vigils” and other posts.  Lest this be in any way unclear to readers, let us repeat the word: at the root of the problem is mismanagement.

In 2008, Terry Donilon was quoted in the Boston Globe saying: “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.”

Coincidentally, in 2011, two and a half years later, Terry Donilon was quoted in the Boston Globe today saying: “We’re not looking for a confrontation, but at some point, the vigils are going to have to end.”

Does anyone else notice the uncanny similarity between what Terry Donilon said today and what he said in 2008? As of that time, the archdiocese said they had spent $2.2 million on utilities, insurance, and other building costs at all churches that had been in vigil over the previous four years. Two and a half years have passed. Who knows what that cost is today. When is the archdiocese going to put their money where their mouths are and do something?  Nobody knows. Even the biggest brains at 66 Brooks do not know either.

As BCI asked previously, why is it that the archdiocese does not just change the locks and padlock the doors of these facilities when they are empty to end the vigils and stop spending all this money on maintenance that could be used elsewhere? In the beginning, as we have said before, Cardinal Sean’s own instructions to the property management company were that if a building was found unoccupied it should have been locked, and the locksmith called to change the locks.  Then Fr. Bryan Hehir, Ann Carter, 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 seven years. In situations where a church is occupied, people could be permitted to leave, but no one would be allowed to enter. It is very simple.

But alas, nobody has the backbone at 66 Brooks Drive to do what should have been done 6-7 years ago.  So, kids “raid the fridge” and sleep-over at the church building “in bedrooms that were once the vestry and the church’s confessional.”  Elsewhere, BCI has heard about sleepovers with pizza set out on the altar like a buffet and quilting classes in the sanctuary. BCI is not sure if Peter Borre is still doing his drive-by deliveries of ciboria containing the Blessed Sacrament consecrated by a sympathetic priest or if Eucharist abuses are still tolerated today as they were in the past, when the Blessed Sacrament was sometimes present in the sanctuary during social gatherings.

When exactly will the archdiocese conclude that enough is enough with these vigils?  Will they delay for several months longer and make this yet another item for the new Vicar General to take up in the fall?

What do you think?

Cardinal Makes Decisions on Future of Eight Closed Churches

July 15, 2011

Big news yesterday on several fronts.  Besides the appointment of a new Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S. the archdiocese announced that Cardinal O’Malley has made decisions on 8 closed churches.  Here is the memo distributed Thursday.  It would do an injustice to the information provided for BCI to edit it, so we publish the memo in its entirety.  Further below, we also comment on the Boston Globe’s article on the same topic.


Braintree, MA (July 14, 2011) – After several weeks of consultation, reflection and prayer, Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley has made several decisions regarding eight Church buildings in the Archdiocese of Boston.  Six Churches have been relegated to profane use and two Churches have been designated or transferred by the Archdiocese for other future ecclesial uses.

In February 2011, Cardinal Seán initiated a broad consultation of the Catholic faithful about the future use of several Church buildings and their related properties.  Specifically, the Cardinal asked for comments on a possible “relegation to profane use” of the Church building.  The term “relegation” is used in Church law for the conversion of a Church building from sacred uses. Once a Church is relegated to profane use, it will no longer be used for Catholic liturgical worship, any remaining sacred items are removed, and the building can be sold for use in an appropriate and dignified manner. The funds derived from a sale of these Churches will be used for direct support of parishes of the Archdiocese.

The consultation process, begun only after Cardinal O’Malley allowed every means of civil and canonical appeal regarding closed parishes to be pursued over the past six years, involved the Catholic faithful who were former parishioners at the parishes to which these Churches were connected prior to their closure in 2004-2005.  The consultation process also involved priests, religious and other lay members in the wider community of the Archdiocese, including the parish pastoral and finance councils of neighboring parishes. The Archbishop then consulted the Archdiocesan Presbyteral Council prior to making his decision, as is required by Church law.

Cardinal Seán said, “The consultation process was very important and of great assistance to me in making decisions on each of these properties.  I am particularly grateful to those who participated in the online surveys and in the parish consultations, to the pastors and Catholic faithful of the welcoming parishes, and to the Presbyteral Council for providing great perspective on each Church property.  I know how difficult the parish closings were, especially for those parishioners directly impacted.  I want you to know I have heard you.  I appreciate your strong commitment to your parish.  What I have heard from these consultations is that we have reached a point as a community of believers where we must relegate these Church buildings as part of the continuing healing and rebuilding of the Archdiocese. I continue to put my trust and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ to help us come together as one Catholic family, inspired by the Holy Spirit and guided in our principles and commitment to do God’s work.”

Churches relegated to profane use:

Cardinal O’Malley issued canonical decrees today relegating each of the following Church buildings to “profane but not sordid use” (can. 1222 §2):

1.      St. James the Great, Wellesley

2.      St. Jeanne D’Arc, Lowell

3.      Star of the Sea, Quincy

4.      Our Lady of Lourdes, Revere

5.      St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, Scituate

6.      Our Lady of Mount Carmel, East Boston

Very Reverend Richard M. Erikson, Vicar General & Moderator of the Curia said, “The Cardinal has shown strong pastoral leadership in providing for the consultation process.  Throughout this process the Cardinal has taken seriously the input of the faithful and made his decision based on what is best for the entire Archdiocese and the local Catholic community which is so important in the life of the Church.”

These decrees are being notified to the faithful today and they become effective on Monday, July 18, 2011. The future disposition of the Churches and related properties is still under consideration.  For each Church, a specific means will be chosen for preserving their memory and the important place they have had in the lives, hearts and minds of our Catholic faithful.  Whether through the relocating of stained glass windows, or religious statues or other sacred objects, the legacy of the closed Church will live on in other parishes of the Archdiocese.

The final formal steps regarding these Churches will be decided over the coming weeks by the Cardinal.  Prior to a possible sale and depending on the value of the property, the Archdiocesan Finance Council would also be consulted.

Churches designated for other uses

The Archdiocese is also announcing today Cardinal O’Malley’s decision to designate or transfer the following Churches for other future ecclesial uses:

1.      St. Therese, Everett

The Cardinal has designated St. Therese in Everett as an Oratory of St. Anthony Parish in Everett.  An “Oratory” is a sacred place that the bishop has designated for use by a particular group of the faithful for divine worship. Whereas in canon law a “Church” is open to all members of the faithful, an Oratory is used by the members of the group for which it is established.  An ethnically diverse parish, St. Anthony Parish includes English, Italian, Spanish and Brazilian communities.  The intention is that St. Therese Oratory will be used for worship by the Brazilian Catholic community.

2.      St. Jeremiah Framingham

The Archdiocese has been engaged in extensive discussions to transfer St. Jeremiah’s to the Syro-Malabar eparchy.  Terms are still being discussed.  The Syro-Malabar Church is East Syrian Rite in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.  The Syro-Malabars have allowed the use of the Church by the former parishioners of St. Jeremiah Parish.  The local Syro-Malabar priests will be responsible for making any further accommodations for a Latin Rite Mass.  To learn more about the Syro-Malabar Church please visit their website at http://www.smcim.org.

“The consultation process has been extensive,” said Very Reverend Arthur M. Coyle, V.E., Regional Episcopal Vicar for the Merrimack Region.  “Cardinal Seán instituted it because he has been committed to insuring that fair and just decisions would be reached regarding the future of sacred buildings. The process was an expression of his efforts to rebuild our Archdiocese, fostering a culture of trust, collaboration and cooperation.”

About the Archdiocese of Boston: The Diocese of Boston was founded on April 8, 1808 and was elevated to Archdiocese in 1875. Currently serving the needs of nearly 2 million Catholics, the Archdiocese of Boston is an ethnically diverse and spiritually enriching faith community consisting of 291 parishes, across 144 communities, educating approximately 42,000 students in its Catholic schools and 156,000 in religious education classes each year, ministering to the needs of 200,000 individuals through its pastoral and social service outreach.   Mass is celebrated in nearly twenty different languages each week. For more information, please visit  www.BostonCatholic.org .



1.      What does relegation to profane use mean?

This term is used in Church law for when a Church building will no longer be used for Catholic liturgical worship.  Once a property has been relegated, any remaining sacred items are removed and the building can be sold for use in an appropriate and dignified manner.

2.      Before he can consider selling a church, does not the Cardinal have to relegate it to profane use?

If a church building is to be sold to a group that will not use it for sacred worship, yes, the Cardinal follows the canons on “relegation of the Church to profane but not sordid use” (canon 1222 §2). This means a secular use, but one that is not unbecoming, immoral, or offensive to Catholics.  If it is sold to a group that will use it for sacred worship, no, the Cardinal does not need to relegate it to profane use.  The process used for considering the possible sale of a church follows both Church law and civil law, taking into account that the church must be relegated to profane use prior to a sale for purposes other than sacred worship.

3.      What happens to these Church buildings once they have been relegated?

The buildings will be appraised and likely marketed for sale.  Prospective buyers will be invited to contact the Archdiocese.  For each building there will be a specific way in which their memory and the important place they have in the lives, hearts and minds of our Catholic faithful will be memorialized and preserved for future generations.  Whether through the relocating of stained glass windows, or religious statues or other sacred objects, the legacy of closed Church will live on in other parishes of the Archdiocese.

4.      Where does the money go from any sales of the closed Church properties?

The funds derived from a sale of these Churches will be used for direct support of parishes of the Archdiocese. The Cardinal is in the process of establishing a dedicated fund for this specific use.

5.      What happens to the sacred objects that remain?

All sacred objects are catalogued and they will be made available first to welcoming parishes and then other Catholic Churches and Church buildings which make such requests

6.      Why did the Cardinal choose a consultation process prior to making his decisions?

This extensive process is a substantial commitment of time and effort on the part of the Archdiocese. The Cardinal instituted it because he is firmly committed to insuring that fair and just decisions would be reached regarding the future of sacred buildings. The process was an expression of his efforts to rebuild our Archdiocese, fostering a culture of trust, collaboration and cooperation.

7.      How does the Cardinal’s decision relate to the previous appeals of parishes which were closed?

During the six or seven years since the closing of the parishes to which these Churches were connected, the Cardinal has kept his word that he would wait for the resolution of the appeals that were filed with the Holy See, and his personal representatives were in dialogue with the faithful who had appealed.  When the appeals were concluded last year, the Cardinal consulted broadly and extensively with the faithful regarding the possible relegation of the Church buildings. He now asks the faithful to accept his decision and he has again reached out in dialogue to those who earlier opposed the closing of the parishes.

8.      When did the Archdiocese begin the process of planning the consultation?

The Archdiocese began this planning for the consultation as soon as the appeals process was concluded in the Fall of 2010. The gathering of information for the consultation phase began long before February 18th.  This is not an entirely new consultative process. Some aspects of the current process are new, such as the use of Internet technology for collecting data (i.e. surveys). But the process itself is very much in continuity with past practices and in conformity with the law of the Church. As in the past, for example, this process included pastors consulting with their parishes and the Presbyteral Council hearing the results of these consultations through presentations by pastors and regional bishops/vicar. In every case of relegation of a Church, the Archbishop has heard the Presbyteral Council before making a decision.

9.      Will there be a consultation process for more churches soon? Why were some other churches not included in the first round of consultation?

The reason the Archdiocese considered so many Churches for sale at the present time is primarily due to the fact that a number of appeals on the parishes were returned at the same time last Fall.  At the present time, Cardinal Seán has received several other requests from pastors to consider the sale of other Church buildings. Prior to making his decision about further relegations, the Cardinal will ask that information be gathered on each Church building, followed by a consultation process that includes pastors, the faithful, and the relevant parish and archdiocesan councils. It is important that each process be thorough and deliberate in the gathering of information and consultation.

10.  How does the process for the sale of a Church conclude?

The final formal steps in the sale of a Church building depend on local circumstances. The building is listed for sale and negotiations are undertaken with potential buyers. Prior to a sale, and depending on the value of the property, the Archdiocesan Finance Council would also be involved. As stated above, no church which is relegated for profane use will be sold for any purpose which is unbecoming, immoral or offensive to Catholics.

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The Boston Globe had an article about the closings (both Thursday and today) which had two statements that BCI wishes to comment on.  First was a comment about appeals:

The protesters, who had anticipated the move by the cardinal, promised today to continue their fight .“Each of the six parish groups is ready to take this issue all the way to the Vatican’s highest court,” said Peter Borre of the Council of Parishes, a lay Catholic group that has contested church closings in the archdiocese.

Funny Peter Borre would say that, because last BCI heard, the people protesting the church closings had already been to the Vatican’s highest court, the Apostolic Signatura, and been turned down. Peter Borre knows their appeals to the Vatican’s highest court were turned down, because, coincidentally, he acknowledged as much in May of 2010 in this article:

The Vatican’s Apostolic Signatura has denied the appeals of 10 Boston parishes…The Apostolic Signatura, comprised of cardinals and archbishops, is the final  canon court of appeal. The decision leaves parishioners with no other recourse within the church to  fight to keep open the churches, Peter Borre leader of the Council of Parishes, told the Associated Press today, adding he did not expect the parishioners to back down now. Borre said the group  is considering filing a federal lawsuit.

So, if he knew being turned down by the Vatican’s highest court in May of 2010 left no further recourse within the church, what exactly makes him believe he can go back to that same court and get a positive response this time?  The Apostolic Signatura upheld the closing decisions, so Borre and friends are not appealing those. This time, Borre and friends are apparently going to try appealing the relegation to profane use decrees.  But since the archdiocese has carefully followed the Vatican’s guidelines for relegating to profane use (see Vatican Warned Boston Archbishop: No Sale Without Due Process), it is rather unclear what gives Peter and the protesting parishes any sense that they will now succeed in appealing the relegation to profane use decrees to the same Apostolic Signatura. BCI thinks it is time to let this go and move on.

Second, the problem of what to do about the “vigil” protesters who still are occupying some of the churches during various times. The Globe said:

The vigil protesters could remain a tricky problem for church officials, who for years have steered away from confrontation and appear eager to avoid the unseemly sight of Catholic faithful being hauled out of church buildings or arrested en masse for trespassing.

“We’re going to continue to communicate with them,’’ said Donilon. He said that the archdiocese is not looking to force people from the buildings, and that “it will be some time’’ before the churches are sold. “But this is not going to go on forever.’’

It sounds like the big brains at 66 Brooks Drive in Braintree are still listening to Fr. Bryan Hehir and PR maven, Ann Carter, on this 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 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.

Can someone at 66 Brooks explain why the process followed for years to prevent attempted vigils is now so difficult to stomach?

The vigils have been tolerated. The lawsuits and appeals have been exhausted. The dialogues and consultations have taken place. The active parishioners from these closed parishes have moved on years ago to worship in other welcoming parishes, and those who keep protesting are largely people who were never particularly active in the previous parish.

BCI does not often agree with the archdiocese, but this is one set of decisions where we do agree it is time to move on. As of Monday when the decrees go into effect, locks should be changed on the buildings (assuming the archdiocese still has the keys). Someone at 66 Brooks should declare that no one will be permitted to enter these churches, and the policy needs to be enforced until the occupied churches are unoccupied.

NEWSFLASH: Boston Archdiocese Pulls For-Sale Listing of Holy Trinity

March 18, 2011

The Associated Press is reporting this afternoon that the Boston Archdiocese has pulled the real estate listing of Holy Trinity in Boston, saying it was causing confusion about its intent. We will have more to say about this over the weekend. In the meantime, make sure you read our post from earlier today, “Fundraising Fiasco: $2.5M Miss on Catholic Appeal.”

Vatican Warned Boston Archbishop: No Sale Without Due Process

March 17, 2011

In response to our last post, “Boston Church Asks Vatican to Stop its Sale,” a reader, “K&JSR” just posted this comment that we thought is worth sharing with all readers.

The letter referenced is from the Apostolic Signatura, dated December 4, 2009, and is in response to an appeal by Holy Trinity of the decision to close Holy Trinity parish. Though the appeal to close Holy Trinity parish was rejected by the Apostolic Signatura (which we knew already), the decision to sell the building was clearly described in the letter as a different matter and process.

Here is the comment by “K&JSR”:

If you want to see an example of a warning letter from the Vatican NOT to do what the Archdiocese just did, it is available as pdf, and was recently sent to the Chancery.


“In regard to the question of the closing of the church building, it has not been established from the documents present in the case file that the reduction of the church to profane use, that is, its definitive closure, has been decreed by the Archbishop and confirmed by the Congregation for the Clergy. In any event, the requirements of canon 1222 would have to be observed fully and, if the sale of the church is contemplated, all the pertinent requirements of universal and particular law would have to be met, including, if such is the case, can. 1292, § 2, with due regard for the rights of those Christian faithful having a legitimate interest to challenge such a decision according to the rules of the law.”

Translated: the appeals of PARISH closing have nothing to do with the separate appeals of CHURCH building closings. DO NOT skip the necessary steps of FIRST consulting Parishioners or interested parties, OR of letting the Vatican speak FIRST if there is an appeal.

BCI translation: If the sale of the church building is being considered by the archdiocese, the archdiocese needs to follow the rules of relegating it to profane use, and Catholics have a legitimate right to challenge that decision.  Cardinal O’Malley was explicitly copied on the letter.

So how is it that the church shows up on the Sothebys website for sale (amidst residential townhouse and condo sale listings), when the process was not followed?

How can the Vicar General say there is a “thorough, thoughtful and efficient” process developed “with sincere intent” to consider input from the Catholic faithful regarding the relegation to profane use of church buildings before they are sold, when for this particular building, it’s already up for sale and no process was followed? 

Why was this directive from the Vatican to follow canon law apparently ignored?  If this one was ignored, how many other times is canon law being ignored?

Does anyone believe the words uttered by senior officials of this archdiocese can be trusted any more?  Beyond the fact that the sale of Holy Trinity should be halted until due process is followed, is there any question that there also needs to be a change in senior leadership?

The Vicar General is already half-way out the door, heading back to the military soon.  The actions and words of the Chancellor and his Benefits Administrator/former HR Director indicate they also cannot be trusted. 

We are calling on all Catholics in the archdiocese to ask their pastors and priests to find a vehicle for communicating a “no confidence” vote in the Chancellor and the administrative leadership of this archdiocese and asking for immediate action to replace the financial/administrative leadership. This action needs to happen within a week–before the 5-year-term of the current Chancellor is renewed.

More on the need to replace the financial and administrative leadership in our next post.

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