Central Committee finishes work, closure announcement date set

It has been more than 40 nail-biting days since clusters submitted their recommendations for parish closures to the Archdiocese of Boston.

This week the archdiocese took a decisive step toward concluding the reconfiguration process as the Central Committee on Reconfiguration completed its work of reviewing all the cluster recommendations and presented its findings to Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley. The archbishop is expected to release the final list of parishes to be closed May 25.

Since March, the Central Committee, made up of 20 clergy, religious and lay people representing the five regions of the archdiocese and archdiocesan officials, has put in long hours reviewing the clusters’ recommendations. In formulating their advice to the archbishop, the committee took into account the parishes’ original recommendations, the assessments made by each cluster’s vicar and regional bishop as well as the circumstances of neighboring clusters.

Following their analysis, the committee had the option of taking one of three steps: endorsing a cluster’s recommendations, endorsing the recommendations with qualifications, or offering its own recommendations if the cluster did not provide any or if the cluster’s recommendations could not be supported by available facts.

The committee’s recommendations do not supercede those made at any previous stage of the reconfiguration process but simply provide additional information to the archbishop in making a final determination of parish closings.

Following the conclusion of the committee’s work, the archdiocese released a list of parishes that have been suggested for closure at any point since clusters’ original reports in March and have not been publicly mentioned as candidates for closure in the past. In all, 37 additional parishes have been suggested for closure by a vicar, regional bishop or the Central Committee.

Archdiocesan spokesman Father Christopher Coyne explained that the reasons for adding the parishes “varied from situation to situation.” Twenty-four, or almost two-thirds, of the parishes were added to the list because their parish cluster did not offer any recommendations themselves; others because the Central Committee saw that two neighboring parishes were both suggested for closure, thus leaving entire neighborhoods without any Church presence.

As with the initial cluster recommendations, the list of newly named parishes is being released “with the understanding that this is not a final decision,” he said.

Despite what some had hoped, the newly released information did not “clear” any parish nor did it specify whether any of the 37 parishes are in addition to, or instead of, those suggested for closure at the cluster level.

On May 4, Moderator of the Curia Bishop Richard G. Lennon sent a letter to the pastor of each affected parish explaining that their parish had been suggested for possible closure. Bishop Lennon also sent a second letter the same day addressed to all the priests of the archdiocese updating them on the reconfiguration process.

According to Bishop Lennon’s letter to all priests, with the conclusion of the committee’s work, the reconfiguration process will enter another phase.

"Archbishop Seán P. O'Malley will bring to the Presbyteral Council his considerations for changes in parishes so that he may hear the members of the council. He will not be bringing any decisions to the council, but rather his thoughts about closures as he is committed to hearing from as many as he can before he makes his final decisions," he wrote.

According to Father Coyne, Church law requires that the archbishop consult the archdiocese’s Presbyteral Council before issuing his final decision. However, Father Coyne stressed that the council’s role is purely advisory.

"The archbishop ... must hear what the Presbyteral Council has to say, but the ultimate decision is [his]," he explained.

The council is scheduled to meet May 7, 10 and 11 at which time they will “review each parish [recommended for closure] individually and submit any comments they may have for or against the closing of that particular parish,” explained Father Coyne.

The council currently consists of the five current auxiliary bishops, 31 priests elected by their peers and 10 priests appointed by the archbishop.

"After the meetings with the Presbyteral Council, Archbishop O'Malley will spend a week to 10 days going over all that he has received and heard before formulating his decisions on reconfiguration for announcements," Bishop Lennon said in his letter.

Then, according to the letter, on May 25 each parish in the archdiocese will receive a letter “indicating if that parish is designated to be a parish for closure, to be a welcoming parish for a specific parish or to be a parish which remains as is.”

Bishop Lennon also explained that a meeting will be held May 27 at St. Julia Parish in Weston with the priests of those parishes slated to be closed. There, priests will be provided with support as well as instructions on how to begin the process of parish closure.

Kathleen Heck, special assistant to the moderator of the curia for reconfiguration, has previously said that parishes to be closed will be given a timeframe of eight, 12 or 16 weeks — depending on the circumstances of the individual parish — to complete the process. Bishop Lennon’s letter made no mention of when parish time frames would be announced.

Donis Tracy, Pilot correspondent, contributed to this story.