Parishioners of a now-closed parish in Framingham, Mass, who have been holding a sit-in since the closure have argued in their lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Boston that they are the legal owners of St. Jeremiah Parish’s property, not the archdiocese. The case was continued until January, but the judge in the case challenged the protesters to tell him why he should rule in their favor when other courts have ruled in favor of the archdiocese in similar claims. After a lame response, he got right to the heart of the matter:
“The result you want is for me to say to the archbishop ‘You can’t close this parish,’ isn’t it?” Borenstein asked.
“Absolutely not,” Galvin said. “He absolutely has the right [to order closings]. We are asking you to decide who owns the property.”
So if the archdiocese capitulated and gave the parish property to the people, they’d be satisfied? (Not that the archdiocese can do that, since it would violate canon law and set a very bad precedent.) Of course, they wouldn’t be satisfied. Whatever their lawyer told the judge, the lawsuit is pressure tactic to force Cardinal Sean O’Malley to reverse his suppression decree. They assume that it’s all about the money to be gained from the sale of the property and that if they take away the profit motive, the archdiocese will give up and return to status quo ante. That’s not going to happen.
Let’s say that against all odds they win their lawsuit. What then? Owning a church building doesn’t make them a Catholic parish. If the cardinal doesn’t assign a pastor what do they do? Do they emulate other protesting parishioners and acquire smuggled-in Eucharist to hold illicit Communion services? Do they hire a priest from a schismatic group or bring a laicized married priest? In any of those scenarios they seriously impair, if not break, their communion with their bishop and thus effectively creating a schism and perhaps even excommunication.
What we have here are the fruits of several generations of bad catechesis catching up with us. People don’t understand their own relationship to the Church or to their bishop and they have become, in many ways, effectively congregationalists.