Vatican rejects canonical appeal on Boston parish closings

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Catholic Church’s highest court has rejected appeals of the closures of eight Boston-area parishes, the Archdiocese of Boston confirmed June 10.

Boston-area Catholics have vowed to continue their fight to have their closed parishes reopened.

The Apostolic Signature sided with the archdiocese, which closed the parishes. They are Infant Jesus-St. Lawrence in Brookline, Our Lady of Lourdes in Revere, St. Anselm in Sudbury, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Scituate, St. James the Great in Wellesley, St. Jeremiah in Framingham, St. Mary Star of the Sea in the Squantum section of Quincy and St. Michael in Lynn.

A ninth appeal for St. Jeanne d’Arc Parish in Lowell was rejected by the Apostolic Signature in February. Representatives from all the former parishes will ask the court to reconsider their appeals, according to Capuchin Franciscan Brother James Peterson, assistant to the moderator of the Boston archdiocesan curia for canonical affairs.

“There is one more level of appeal, and we have heard that all eight are appealing to the full college of judges at the Apostolic Signature,” Brother James said.

Peter Borre, co-chair of the Council of Parishes – a lay organization formed to oppose the parish-closure process – stressed the closed parishes’ commitment to seeing the appeals process through.

“We intend to stay with this issue as long as we can,” he told The Pilot, Boston’s archdiocesan newspaper.

Two other pending appeals – one for Sacred Heart in Natick and the other for Sacred Heart in the North End – have not yet received their first ruling from the court.

Kathleen Heck, special assistant to the moderator of the archdiocesan curia, said the recent rulings do not necessarily indicate how the Vatican will rule on the remaining two appeals.

She added that throughout the process the Vatican has given the appeals “careful consideration” and so far has upheld the archdiocese’s decision to suppress those parishes.

“As painful as this has been for a lot of people, the process in Boston has been appropriate under canon law to achieve a necessary goal of a more sustainable group of parishes,” Ms. Heck said. “It gives us a moment to once again advocate for unity.”

Parish reconfiguration began in January 2004, and parishioners of about a dozen suppressed parishes appealed the decision to close those churches to the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy, which in 2006 upheld the archdiocese’s decision. The closed parish groups then appealed the congregation’s decision to the Apostolic Signature.

Three of the churches that appealed to the Apostolic Signature were reopened in 2005 as worship sites of neighboring parishes. In addition, closure opponents continue to hold vigils at five other churches, including three whose appeals to the Vatican are pending.

Five other Massachusetts parishes that appealed their closure – Our Lady of Mercy in Belmont, St. Ann in Marlborough, St. Augustine in South Boston, St. Alphonsus in Danvers and St. William in Dorchester – never appealed at the level of the Apostolic Signature. Several others dropped their appeals even earlier in the process.

In a June 10 statement announcing the Apostolic Signature’s recent ruling, the Archdiocese of Boston acknowledged the difficulty parish suppression causes for faith communities.

“We recognize that the process of closing a parish and transitioning to a new setting is very challenging for all who are involved,” the statement said. “In the Archdiocese of Boston, as in many other places, the connection to our familiar place of worship can be very strong.”

The statement added, “Going forward, we continue to hope and pray that through productive dialogue and mutual respect we can work together to strengthen the church, carry out the mission given us by Christ and be his witnesses in the world.”

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.