Want more news? Read our e-newsletter archive, and sign up online to stay current.

Is Vatican Policy Shifting To Keep Churches Open?
Parishioners from Springfield, Allentown Win Appeals

Parishioners in three US dioceses have received hopeful responses from the Vatican to appeals to keep their churches open. Until now, virtually all parishioner appeals have been denied. But there are signs the old policy is shifting, perhaps because the sheer number of appeals has alerted Vatican officials to problems in more than a few diocesan reconfiguration plans. There are at least fifty appeals being processed from the US alone, as well as several from Canada and the UK.

At press time, the FutureChurch office learned the Congregation for the Clergy has ruled that three churches in the Springfield, Mass diocese will stay open. Parishioners at one parish, St. Stanislaus, had been engaged in a 24-hour vigil since Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell announced the closure in 2008. Likewise, the Congregation for the Clergy recently upheld parishioners in eight Allentown church appeals preventing Bishop John O. Barres, from “reducing the church to profane use.” This means church buildings must remain open for religious services and the bishop cannot sell them or their properties. However, as it did in Springfield, the Vatican also upheld the Bishop’s suppression of each parish as a juridic entitity. The local bishop is now in the position of being unable to sell the building and property of the eight churches, while having suppressed the communities that paid the bills. Observers believe Bishops Barres and McDonnell may well appeal the decisions. However, if the Vatican upholds similar parishioner appeals now pending in Cleveland and elsewhere, diocesan bishops will be less inclined to suppress small, vibrant and solvent parishes especially if they are forbidden to sell buildings and land that could now be subject to property taxes.
Head of Vatican High Court Says to Keep Churches Open

Recent remarks from Cardinal Raymond Burke, the head of the Vatican’s highest Court, the Apostolic Signatura, also signal a shift. The January 22 issue of the British Catholic weekly, The Tablet reported that Burke told a group of canon law judges from England and Wales that closing a church should only be done “as a last resort.” He also said a parish’s “spiritual patrimony” was the most important consideration and that it is better for a church to be open for monthly Mass than to be closed. England is experiencing a steep decline in numbers of active priests, as high as 40-50 percent in some dioceses.

New Boston Reconfiguration Won’t Close Churches

A new parish reconfiguration proposal from the Archdiocese of Boston corresponds well with the apparent change in Vatican thinking. The archdiocese wants to merge neighboring parishes into a single parish with worship at multiple church buildings, rather than close and sell the churches and their properties. Just six years ago, Boston closed some sixty parishes to pay clergy sex abuse bills. Most were viable and vibrant parish communities. Widespread public protests and twenty-four-hour church vigils quickly ensued and these are still unresolved. Recently seven parishes filed new appeals to prevent Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley from officially “reducing their churches to profane use,” a needed precondition before they could be sold. In the new reconfiguration plan, apparently no church would be forced to close. Instead each clustered parish with its multiple worship sites would be run by a pastor, with help from a team of priests, a consolidated lay parish council, finance council, and parish staff. The number of active diocesan parish priests in Boston is expected to drop from about 350 this year to just 180 a decade from now.

Vatican High Court Accepts St. Mary’s Appeal

Other evidence of a shift in Vatican policy comes from the Syracuse diocese. Parishioners from St. Mary’s parish in Jamesville, NY were granted a court hearing Feb. 12 at the Vatican when their formal appeal will be heard. Since 2007 dozens of parishioners patiently pursued this appeal. Colleen LaTray, said: “We know we have a strong case. We are financially solvent, growing, located in an expanding community and have a strong active ministry.” Peter Borre, chairman of the American Council of Parishes, a Boston-based advocacy group believes the Vatican’s acceptance of the St. Mary appeal is highly significant: “. it’s the first and only case to my knowledge from an American parish group that’s made it all the way to a full court hearing.” St. Mary’s, with 350 families in the parish at the time of the diocesan announcement, is the only Catholic church in the Jamesville area.

For other developments in parishioner appeals in Springfield, MA, Camden, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Cleveland, Youngstown and North Bay, Ontario, CA see our electronic newsletter archives for
December and January and visit ParishWatch at www.futurechurch.org.

Help Us Celebrate 20 Years! Join the 2010 Club

To celebrate FutureChurch's 20th anniversary we are asking supporters to help us raise an additional $20,000 for a programmatic reserve fund.

More info on the FutureChurch 2010 Club

Focus on FutureChurch

Winter 2011

Archive of Past Articles