Vatican upholds sale of church to Syro-Malabars, vigil ends

BRAINTREE -- Rome has denied all appeals from former parishioners to prevent the sale of St. Jeremiah Church in Framingham, the Vatican communicated to the Boston Archdiocese Nov. 16.

"We have been informed by the Holy See that the petition brought to the Congregation for the Clergy by former members of the Parish of St. Jeremiah Framingham has been rejected," Father Robert Oliver, Assistant to the Moderator of the Curia for Canonical Affairs, said in an interview with The Pilot Nov. 16.

The Archdiocese of Boston had sold the property after giving the former parishioners unlimited time to exhaust all forms of appeal allowed under both civil and canon law. The Code of Canon Law allowed for the group to appeal as high as the Church's supreme court, The Apostolic Signature.

St. Thomas Syro Malabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago purchased the rectory, the building, and the parking lot in September. Archdiocesan officials announced the decision to those in vigil in a meeting on Oct. 1.

"Our position is that the cardinal has exhibited great patience, that he's demonstrated great pastoral care and concern, for the folks that have been in vigil and opposed the closing of the parish," Terrence Donilon, spokesman for the archdiocese, said. "This should not be construed as an us-versus-them. We're not looking to have confrontations, we're looking to build up our Catholic Community with vibrant and exciting and faith-filled parishes."

The Syro-Malabar diocese maintains ownership of the facilities as per former arrangements, and a spokesman said the group intends not to change the name of the church itself.

"Our commitment is to have one Latin Rite Mass on Sundays," Tommy Abraham, spokesman for the Syro-Malabar Diocese, said. "It is my understanding that there is no vigil at the church anymore."

Father Varghese Naikomparambil, the pastor at St. Jeremiah, now provides for both communities active at the church.

Peter Borre, chairperson of the Council of Parishes, and Jackie Lemmerhirt, co-chair of the vigil appeal, confirmed the end of the vigil. The Syro-Malabar keeping the church open to the former parishioners ended the need for the vigil, because the church will remain open to the former community for worship, Lemmerhirt said.

Lemmerhirt said the two communities embrace one-another under the current arrangements, including invitations by the Syro-Malabar for the previous parishioners to attend feast days for St. Thomas -- who founded their church.

"We have developed a cooperative relationship, and we expect that to continue," Lemmerhirt said. "They give us a place of honor at their celebrations."

However, Borre and Lemmerhirt both committed to further resistance to the archdiocese regarding the church's recognition as part of the Latin Rite.

Lemmerhirt said the former parishioners want to see the two communities organized into one, under the Boston Archdiocese.

"We see it as an easy solution. It's a win for everyone," Lemmerhirt said. "The archdiocese just doesn't seem to see it that way."

According to church officials at the Pastoral Center in Braintree, it is just a simple matter of ownership of the parish.

"We don't own it anymore. It's now under the control and jurisdiction of the Syro-Malabars, and we're going to continue to move forward," Donilon said. "We hope that [former parishioners] join us at one of the parishes."

"We recognize how hard this is for people, and it's our hope that we can work with them in order to bring them into the fullness of participation in the faith," Father Oliver said.

Former parishioners of St. Jeremiah began their vigil in 2005. Not all former parishioners kept the vigil. Some became parishioners of St. George Catholic Church in Framingham, less than two miles away and other parishes in the area.

A previous appeals process -- involving nine parishes closed in 2005 -- ended when the Apostolic Signature issued their decree in 2010. The decree affirmed the decision of the Congregation of the Clergy regarding closed parishes, according to a statement issued by the archdiocese at the time.

The Syro-Malabar community has been worshipping at St. Jeremiah since 2008. A priest of the St. Thomas diocese took up residence in the rectory at that time.

The St. Thomas Diocese -- the only Syro-Malabar diocese in the United States -- oversees 100,000 Catholics in the U.S. and Canada.