Project Protects Parish Rights,
Changes Vatican Policy
A FutureChurch initiative designed to provide Catholics with tools to defend their parish homes has contributed to a highly significant change in Vatican policy. Since 2007, years our Save Our Parish Community project has guided successful parishioner appeals across the U.S., and in Cleveland, Ohio.
The project provides educational and organizing resources to faith communities discerning an appropriate response to diocesan decisions to close or merge their vibrant, solvent, and apostolically effective parish. It also educates about effective diocesan processes inviting parishioner involvement in deciding the future of their parish.
A March 7, 2012, decree from the Congregation for the Clergy overruled Cleveland Bishop Richard Lennon’s March 2009 decision to suppress eleven Cleveland parishes and close their churches. Exceeding all expectations, the Cleveland decrees actually set a new precedent. For the first time, a bishop was ordered to restore suppressed parishes as well as reopen their churches.
According to a Commentary on Vatican Decrees Upholding Cleveland Parishioner Appeals, written by canon lawyer, Sr. Kate Kuenstler, PHJC, JCD: “Both the Congregation for Clergy and the Apostolic Signatura now make a clear distinction between the legitimate reasons to merge parishes and legitimate reasons to close a church.” No longer considered legitimate reasons for closing a church are the following:
- The shortage of priests
- The church is in close proximity to another church.
- The church is no longer considered necessary for worship when a parish is suppressed or merged.
- The maintenance for a building no longer needed as a church for Divine worship is a financial burden to the parish.
Sr. Kate has succeeded in winning many cases, including ones at the Congregation for the Clergy and the Apostolic Signatura, both very rare occurrences. FutureChurch was happy to honor her with our Fr. Louis J. Trivison award in September 2012.
As of December 2012, FutureChurch’s Save Our Parish Community initiative helped Catholics from 28 U.S. parishes in six dioceses win their appeals, including thirteen in Cleveland, OH; nine in Allentown, PA; four in Springfield, MA; and one each in Camden, NJ, Buffalo NY, Kansas City, KS and Grand Rapids, MI. We have also worked closely with Peter Borré and Boston’s Council of Parishes, the courageous group that first resisted unjust church closings in Boston and then proceeded to assist Catholics in other cities. Along with Sr. Kate, Borré’s high profile media work and networking in Rome were important factors in catalyzing change.
As is true of all of FutureChurch’s grassroots initiatives, everything depends on faithful Catholics taking responsible action to address church injustices that cry out for redress.
An important project resource is a “Crisis Kit” available for free downloading (Download the Crisis Kit). The kit contains immediate information viable parish communities need when faced with unwanted closure. It includes good and bad reasons to close parishes, how to seek immediate canonical redress, information about protecting parish rights, prayer and media resources, and where to get immediate help and support.
The Save Our Parish Community packet is another important resource. It contains more extensive information about canonical and civil redress, biblical, theological and canonical essays about early faith communities and a parish’s right to exist, a sample parish discernment process, information about parish administrators, deacons and lay ministers, information about the experiences of parishes who resisted closure, a sample parish constitution, prayers to use when your parish is closed, prayers to use for parish vigils as well as organizing and media tools. (Order the Save Our Parish Community packet)