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?

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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.

http://www.holytrinitygerman.org/Suppression/Signatura-Decree-2.pdf

“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.


Boston Church Asks Vatican to Stop its Sale

March 15, 2011

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.”

Why?

“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.

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.

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.”

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

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?


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