Archdiocese responds to priests’ criticism

Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley met May 27 with priests from 70 parishes to be suppressed as part of the Archdiocese of Boston’s reconfiguration process. The purpose of the meeting was to offer support to the priests and provide information on the process of shutting down their parishes.

During the meeting the priests received a “closing manual” from Archbishop O’Malley, with instructions on everything from what to do with religious articles in their churches — including chalices, altars and stained-glass windows — to severance packages for employees and liturgical rites for final Masses.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, two priests lashed out at Archbishop O’Malley, who held the meeting at St. Julia Parish in Weston, saying his plan to shut the doors of so many churches was a drastic way of trying to solve the archdiocese’s financial problems.

"This is part of a larger picture of financial mismanagement," said Father Robert Bowers, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in the Charlestown section of Boston.

"It's too fast, too hard and too harsh," Father Bowers said of Archbishop O'Malley's plan to suppress 70 parishes in the next six months.

Father Bowers said he agreed that some churches must be closed to deal with declining Mass attendance and contributions, but the number to be closed and the rapid pace of the closings is unwarranted.

Father Stephen Josoma, pastor of St. Susanna Parish in Dedham, said he was skeptical about Archbishop O’Malley’s explanation that the money from the sale of the closed churches will be used to support the programs and operations of the remaining parishes in the archdiocese.

Archbishop O’Malley has insisted that the money will not be used to pay for an $85 million settlement reached with victims of clergy sexual abuse or for future settlements with other victims.

"I think they need the money to pay off something that hasn't been explained to us," Josoma said.

"It's absolutely unnecessary at this time," he said of the planned 70 closings.

Speaking to The Pilot in a telephone interview, Father Christopher Coyne, spokesman for the archdiocese, responded to the allegations that the archdiocese has secret motives for the closings.

"There are no grounds to say something like that," Father Coyne said. "Archbishop O'Malley has been extremely up front about the settlement and the payment of the abuse cases."

"It is unfortunate that some [people], especially some priests, are making wild and unfounded accusations against Archbishop Seán and the truthfulness of his actions and words," Father Coyne said.

"It shows marked disrespect for him as their bishop -- to whom they pledged obedience and respect when they were ordained -- to spread unfounded claims against the archdiocese," he added.

Some have contended that parishes such as St. Catherine of Sienna or St. Susanna were unfairly targeted for closure because their pastors were among the 58 priests who signed a December 2002 letter asking for the resignation of then-Archbishop Cardinal Bernard Law.

Father Coyne emphatically denied those charges.

"Priests who claim that a parish is being closed because they are outspoken or because they signed a petition calling for Cardinal Law's resignation give themselves way too much credit," he said. "It takes a remarkable amount of ego to think that anyone would close a parish to get even with one priest."