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.

CARDINAL MAKES DECISIONS ON FUTURE OF EIGHT CLOSED CHURCHES

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 .

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FAQ

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.

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