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.

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