Pope will not intervene in Boston parish closures

BRAINTREE -- Despite news that the pope has refused to reverse the closure of several parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston, a leader of the group opposing the closings says they are vowing to press on.

Peter Borre, co-chairman of the Council of Parishes, a group that was formed in 2004 to oppose the archdiocese's decision to close several parishes, received a letter from the Vatican informing him that the pontiff will not intervene on behalf of nine of the closed parishes. The letter was signed by Vatican Assistant Secretary of State Archbishop Fernando Filoni.

Borre also said parishioners from seven of those nine former parishes have decided to appeal to the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy to keep the churches open as Catholic places of worship. If successful, the appeal would prevent the Archdiocese of Boston from selling the churches to non-Catholic entities.

Borre admitted that he did not think the pope would overturn Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley's decision to close the parishes.

"My objective was to raise the issue of parish closings as a policy cause, not as a legal matter," Borre said.

"Our objective was to raise this at the highest levels of the Vatican," he added.

Borre said he was encouraged and comforted by the pope's response, praising the pontiff for his "pastoral and sympathetic statement." The Vatican letter says the pope was made aware of the situation and promised to pray for him "during these difficult times.

Last year, Borre waged an appeal effort on behalf of groups from 11 closed parishes:

St. Anselm, Sudbury

Sacred Heart, Natick

Infant Jesus-St. Lawrence, Brookline

Holy Trinity, South End

St. James, Wellesley

St. Jeremiah, Framingham

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, Scituate

Our Lady of Lourdes, Revere

St. Jeanne d'Arc Lowell

Star of the Sea, Quincy

St. Michael the Archangel, Lynn

By May, the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican's highest court, had denied the appeals.

The groups from St. Anselm and Sacred Heart declined to take their cases directly to the pope. St. Anselm now operates as a rectorate.

Those that will pursue the appeal to the Congregation of the Clergy include St. James, St. Jeremiah, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Jeanne d'Arc, Star of the Sea and St. Michael.

Citing financial concerns, dwindling Mass attendance and a priest shortage, the archdiocese closed 64 parishes in 2004. Since then, parishioners from some of the closed parishes have waged round-the-clock vigils to keep their parishes open.

Of the seven parishes that are now appealing to the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy to challenge the relegation of their churches to "profane use," three of those parishes are still in 24-hour vigils -- St. James in Wellesley, St. Jeremiah in Framingham and St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Scituate.

St. Jeremiah's is also being used by the archdiocese's Syro-Malabar Catholic community.

Terrence Donilon, Secretary of Communications for the Archdiocese of Boston, said the closed parishes will remain shuttered, and that the vigils "have to end at some point."

He said the archdiocese is not looking to forcibly expel the vigilers, but is seeking a "peaceful and prayerful" end to the vigils.

Donilon said the archdiocese seeks dialogue as the first way to conclude the vigils.

"This is not some contest of people winning and losing," he said. "It's about rebuilding the Church of Boston and the archdiocese, and seeing if people are going to rejoin us in that effort."