Parishioners Nationwide Appeal Closings
According to press reports, at least fifteen parishes nationwide have filed canonical appeals that are pending in Rome: ten in Boston, two in Buffalo, one in Syracuse, and two in New York City. Three additional parishes have reportedly not yet filed but plan to. (For a list of seven parishioner created websites that address parish closings visit www.futurechurch.org and click on the Save Our Parish Community icon).
Vatican Denies One Boston Appeal. On February 1, a panel of judges from the Vatican's highest tribunal refused an appeal brought by parishioners at St. Jeanne D’Arc parish which was closed four years ago. According to The Boston Globe , Catholics fighting to keep parishes open, fear the decision indicates how the Vatican will decide nine other appeals brought in response to the 2004 Archdiocesan decision to close over 80 parishes. Five closed parishes have been occupied by protesters for 40 months.
The legal argument presented by the archdiocese defended the closing by noting that it was in the context of potential financial ruin of the archdioceses owing to the sex abuse crisis: that all actions of this process of reconfiguration and ‘closing of parishes’ are to be understood, not excluding the suppression of wealthy parishes, not excluding the suppression of parishes of maximum vitality, not excluding the giving of goods of extinct parishes to the archdiocese.
St. Jeanne D’Arc parishioners have appealed to the full tribunal and issued a public statement which said in part:
The Vatican panel’s decision of February 1 has tacitly endorsed the Archdiocese of Boston’s policy of willfully disregarding the basic rights of parishes under canon law. Ste Jeanne d’Arc’s parishioners will continue their struggle by taking this last step in the Vatican’s arduous legal process, not only to restore their own parish, but to create legal precedent on behalf of all Catholic parishioners throughout America. (full statement available at www.futurechurch.org)
Peter Borre, the chairman of the Council of Parishes, decried the ruling, saying, "This tells Catholic America that no parish is safe - it means that under financial duress, any bishop can appropriate any parish, and that's a big issue."
Buffalo Parishes Appeal. On Feb 20, The Buffalo News reported that parishioners of St. Mary Catholic Church in Lockport, NY and St. Adalbert in Buffalo, NY have filed formal canonical appeals to keep their churches open. Members from at least three other parishes are seriously considering joining them. Unfortunately, the odds are against their success, said Charles Wilson, executive director of the St. Joseph Foundation, a non-profit organization that often represents lay people in church disputes. “I wish it were not so”, he said. “It’s the lay parishioners who are asked to pay the bills. Why shouldn’t they have at least some say? I’m terribly sorry church law does not provide more protection for parishioners.” [ Bill…St. Adelbert’s appeal was denied by the tribunal]