Vatican reportedly denies appeals of parish closings

BRAINTREE -- Those appealing the shuttering of 10 churches closed by the Archdiocese of Boston in 2004 have apparently faced another setback in their effort to have that decision overturned.

Barring a successful civil suit, 10 closed parishes of the Archdiocese of Boston will not be successful in overturning a 2004 decision to shutter them.

Council of Parishes, a group that formed to oppose a 2004 decision by the Boston archdiocese to close 64 parishes says the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s top court, has denied an appeal by a group of Boston Catholics to order the reestablishment of 10 previously-closed parishes: Infant Jesus-St. Lawrence in Brookline; Our Lady of Lourdes in Revere; Sacred Heart in Natick; St. Anselm in Sudbury; St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Scituate; St. James the Great in Wellesley; St. Jeremiah in Framingham; St. Michael the Archangel in Lynn; St. Jeanne D’Arc in Lowell; and Star of the Sea in Squantam.

The Archdiocese of Boston had not received formal written notice of the Vatican’s decision as of press time, said archdiocesan spokesman Terry Donilon. Cynthia Deysher, of the Council of Parishes, said the group learned of the decision from a canon lawyer working on the case in Rome.

“This is not a surprise,” said Peter Borre, co-chairman of the Council of Parishes. “Our research indicated that only one parishioner’s appeal has been granted in the last 30 years.”

“Apart from the fact that some people thought we would win, we in Boston had a responsibility to show Catholics in other dioceses what to expect in the appeals process,” Borre added.

The Vatican’s decision means the archdiocese’s process to close the parishes, “suppression” in Church parlance, complied with Canon Law. As a result of the decision, parishioners do not have any further recourse within the Church to fight the closings.

However, parishioners could file a civil suit in an U.S. court, a move which Borre’s group is considering according to a report from Catholic News Service.

The Boston archdiocese is deferring comment on the Vatican’s decision until it has received formal written notice.

The Vatican’s decision comes after a five-year process that has included appeals to the archdiocese and a small Vatican tribunal.

“Being able to sustain 10 appeals over five years in Rome, that is no easy task,” Borre said.

Canon Law says that parishes must appeal to the archbishop and if that fails they have recourse to the Vatican.

In 2006, the ten closed parishes took their case to the Vatican, appealing to the Congregation of the Clergy.

The smaller Vatican group upheld the closings of the parishes, as well as Our Lady of Mercy in Belmont and St. Augustine in South Boston.

While the other parishes took their cases to the Vatican’s highest court, Our Lady of Mercy and St. Augustine did not.

Cardinal O’Malley re-opened St. Anselm and Infant Jesus-St. Lawrence as worship sites of neighboring parishes in 2005 and Star of the Sea in 2006.

Other closed parishes have operated round-the-clock vigils, however. Vigils are being held at St. Jeremiah, St. James, St. Frances, St. Therese Parish in Everett, and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in East Boston.

Borre called on the archdiocese to end these vigils by reopening these former churches.

“I think it’s time for a constructive resolution of these vigils which would restore them as places of worship,” Borre said.

Donilon said the archdiocese is eying a “prayerful resolution” to the vigils.

“They have to end at some point,” he said. “They can’t go on forever.”

“The cardinal is a man of peace,” Donilon added. “He’s been so patient about it. He respects the people in the vigil.”

A statement of the Council of Parishes that appeared in the Boston Globe on May 18 accused the archdiocese of using money received from the sale of closed parishes to pay settlements of sexual abuse victims.

Donilon disputed this claim.

“The archdiocese has expended significant funds to fulfill its responsibility to survivors and to ensure that this tragedy never again occurs. These funds have come from a variety of sources including property sales, primarily the sale of a portion of the Brighton property to Boston College, insurance coverage under policies issued to the archdiocese, and money from the archdiocese’s self-insurance fund,” Donilon said in a statement.

“The funds have not come from the sale of parish properties closed through the reconfiguration process,” he added.

Donilon said the archdiocese is committed to financial transparency, annually publishing a report that details the sources of funds used to settle sexual abuse claims. The report is available to the public at the archdiocese’s web site.

Donilon also said that the archdiocese closed parishes because of longstanding factors including dwindling Mass attendance, demographic shifts, and the declining priest shortage that has occurred over the last three decades.