“May We Burn Forever”

The last of the church occupations in the Archdiocese of Boston is over after 12 years. The occupiers of the former St. Frances Cabrini church in Scituate have vacated the premises after a final desecration of the once-sacred space, having been given the court order to leave by midnight Monday night.

Following the denial of their final, final, “no really this time it’s final” appeal, the occupiers led by the Rogers family left the building. The Rogers were the ringleaders behind the occupation and they repeatedly denied over the years that one of their motivations as abutting property owners was the prospect of seeing the multimillion-dollar acreage next door sold off and developed, despoiling their views.1

Rogers addressed the crowd at the sending-off party yesterday with a phrase that should send a shiver down everyone’s spines: “This is not a death, but the birth of a new church and a new way of thinking… We are the bright light our world needs, and I pray that we burn forever.” (emphasis added) I think the demonic irony was unintended.

That was followed by the announcement that they would form a new “Catholic community” church led by a man who has left the priesthood and married. and because Satan really, really wants us to know he’s behind all this, they will be meeting at the Freemason’s lodge in town.
Read More and Comment

The Church wins by making a new group of Protestants

After a dozen years, the Archdiocese of Boston has finally prevailed in the courts over a group of sit-in protesters who refused to vacate the former church of a suppressed parish, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Scituate. I blogged about this sit-in from the beginning, and it was clear early on that this wasn’t just about parishioners who didn’t want to lose their parish. If that were so, this would have ended like the other dozen or so sit-in protests that have faded over the years. No, this was about certain abutting interests in Scituate who didn’t want to see 30 acres of waterfront real estate go on the market and disrupt their neighborhood. And it was about an archdiocese so worried at looking like the bad guys at first that they dealt with kid gloves.

Sure, some church officials will see this as a win, having waited out the protesters until every last conceivable (and inconceivable) appeal was exhausted and every previous promise to vacate the premises broken. (In fact, I’ll believe they’re done when they leave on their new promised date of May 29.)

But what have we, as a Church, won besides the right to sell some land for a tidy profit? It looks like we’ve won some new Protestants.

Rogers said that after leaving the church, his group would gather in a new location and attempt to reach out to former Catholics who have drifted away from the church since the clergy sex abuse scandal surfaced in 2002.

Not exactly what we’re supposed to be about.

God, Wall Street and the New Push to Save Catholic Schools

“The trend could end disastrously, says Jack Connors, co-founder of the Boston ad agency Hill Holliday and head of the city’s Campaign for Catholic Schools, which has raised $79 million. There are 90 parish schools left in the Boston Archdiocese, he says, down from 250 in 1965. At the average rate of three closings a year, the number will zero out in 30 years.

“If that happens, it’s the end of our faith,” Connors says.”

That’s a startling comment. Are Catholic schools vital to the continuation of the Church in our dioceses? Can we raise up disciples without them in our current environment? Are they doing so even now?

I keep coming back to the statistic in Forming Intentional Disciples that we’re losing most of the kids as they enter adulthood anyway, so they can’t be doing that great of a job now. Apart from the value of Catholic education to individual children and society, from a discipleship and evangelization perspective are they required?

Voice of America quoting me on Steubenville church closings (sort of)

Funny, the places you find yourself being quoted. Ted Landphair does a weekly radio segment on Voice of America called “American Life.” This week he looks at the suppression of Catholic parishes in Steubenville, Ohio, home of Franciscan University of Steubenville, my alma mater. He discusses the sad decline of the city and the decrease in population from the steel mill heyday.

He also quotes one of my blog posts from back in May on the closing of Immaculate Conception Parish and the Jesuit Urban Center in Boston. I think he slightly missed the context. The way he quoted me changed the sense a little, I think. See if you agree. Here’s what I wrote:

Do we want churches that are merely monuments to artistic expression and museums of our cultural history? Or should our parishes be places where families gather in community to worship the Lord as a body of believers that image the whole Church and Christ Himself?

And here’s what he wrote:

As the Boston Globe wrote about a constriction of churches in that city, “Each church closing means an irreparable loss of history, continuity, and culture.” And tears for the hard-working families who, in many cases, paid money they could barely afford to make their home churches elegant.

Some Steubenville Catholics have stoically accepted a viewpoint, recently stated by Dominico [sic] Bettinelli Jr., a former editor of Catholic World [sic]magazine, in response to the Boston situation. Churches are not meant to be “monuments of artistic expression,” he writes on his Web log, but rather, in his words, “places where families gather to worship the Lord as a body of believers.”

Mass. court rules archdiocese can close parish

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that it can’t interfere in parish closings by the Archdiocese of Boston because of First Amendment restrictions. The ruling was in response to a lawsuit brought by parishioners from St. James the Great Parish in Wellesley.

The challengers said the land had been donated by a family and subsequent donations were made to renovate to the archdiocese on the condition that a church would always be located on the land.

The court wrote in its decision that “the claims in this case raise matters of internal church governance that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution forbids us to consider.”

The court said it can get involved in some property disputes between churchgoers and church leaders, but this case did meet the standard.

“Among the religious controversies off limits to our courts are promises by members of the clergy to keep a church open,” the court wrote.

Attorneys for the archdiocese wrote in their legal brief that the transfer of the property to the archdiocese was in a charitable trust, to use the property as a church for the benefit of the public and for the advancement of religion.

They argued that only the state Attorney General has legal standing to file lawsuits over alleged breaches of trust by a charity.

Technorati Tags: | | | | |

More parish closing complaining

Here’s yet another op-ed in the Boston Globe criticizing the Archdiocese of Boston for closing parishes. Ironically, the photo used to illustrate the story is of the closing parish’s altar in 1949, in all its glory. That’s probably about when this inner-city parish was last full of families. That’s because this is Immaculate Conception Church in Boston’s South End, also known as the Jesuit Urban Center, which is a gay-magnet church and which was “wreck-ovated” not long ago in a disaster of modernism.

Unfortunately, the perspective in this column, like in too many other defenses of closing urban parishes, is not that of parish life and worship, but of cultural and architectural continuity.

With the imminent closing and sale of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in the South End comes yet another stage in the slow and agonizing cultural suicide of the Catholic Church in Boston. Each church closing means an irreparable loss of history, continuity, and culture, whether it be the closing of a feisty and proud ethnic parish, like the South End’s Holy Trinity, the closing of beloved neighborhood churches, often of some architectural distinction, such as Blessed Sacrament in Jamaica Plain, or the closing of a rare and important center of high culture and dedicated urban ministry like the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

The whole column lists the artistic and architectural significance of the church, the fact that it used to be “fashionable and elegant” with guest preachers and famous musicians. We are told of the former rector who ensured that there were enough funds to maintain the church. It’s not until halfway through the column that we hear of any type of service provided by the parish in the past. There’s certainly nothing about worship and community life.

The secret to keep your parish from closing

Technorati Tags: | | | | |

Katrina-hit parish sues bishop over rebuilding church

Speaking of closing parishes, they’re dealing with this on a massive scale on the Gulf Coast. A parish in Pass Christian, Mississippi, is suing the diocese because it won’t rebuild their church. But the implications are more wide-reaching, raising questions of the balance between clericalism and congregationalism.

Bishop Thomas Rodi of Biloxi, Mississippi, had decided to merge St. Paul Parish with Holy Family Parish after St. Paul’s—which was located on the beach—had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. About 150 parishioners have sued Rodi and the pastor of Holy Family, claiming that the property was deeded to the congregation, not the diocese, and that the diocese was only holding it in trust for the congregation.

This is not how the Church organizes parishes. Dioceses do not hold property in trust in that fashion and would not accept the sale or donation of property to the congregation itself and not the diocese. For one thing, the congregation does not exist independent of the diocese or bishop, that is a parish can only exist as part of a diocese or under the authority of a bishop.

The lawyer for the plaintiffs claims that the lawsuit is not about getting the parish rebuilt in the same location, but only about demanding an accounting for the assets of St. Paul’s. If that’s the case, then that’s their right under both civil law and canon law. Under canon law, a parish’s property belongs to it and cannot simply be appropriated by a bishop for his own use. He must account for it. If the parish is merged with another parish, then the closed parish’s property goes to the new parish. If a parish is suppressed, then it’s assets would go to the diocese, but they must follow proper procedure.

Bishop Rodi responded to the lawsuit with a public statement published in the diocesan newspaper and the local newspaper. In it he outlines the background of the situation, including the fact that there were originally three parishes in the town, one of them staffed by a religious order. But after the hurricane, the order decided to pull out of the parish. That left the diocese with a decision to consolidate the two parishes. At first they were going to maintain two locations, but then they changed their minds, saying that both financial and spiritual considerations led them to decide to rebuild only one.

The bottom line of the lawsuit is that it is an attempt to have the courts order the Catholic Church to have a church building at a specific place. If this lawsuit would be successful, it would mean, in effect, that the courts would tell the Catholic Church where God must be worshipped, where Mass and the other sacraments must be celebrated, and how the Catholic Church must use the financial resources of Holy Family Parish. This lawsuit attacks both the unity and liberty of the Church.

[…]

Any pastor desires to create unity in his parish and the pastor of Holy Family Parish reached the conclusion that having two churches would tend to have parishioners identify with one church building or the other rather than identify as one Holy Family Parish. One church building would also allow for a combining and strengthening of parish ministries, especially those associated with the celebration of the Eucharist, which have been weakened by the loss of so many parishioners. At present only about 700 individuals (not 700 families) attend Mass at Holy Family Parish.

[…]

This deeply saddens me since this lawsuit is not in keeping with our understanding of the fundamental nature of the Catholic Church. We are a church, not independent congregations. In faith, worship, and practice, we are in union with the successor of Saint Peter, the Pope. The Pope appoints the bishop of each diocese to serve as shepherd of the diocese. The bishop in turn appoints pastors to serve as shepherds for the parishes. The pastor is to minister for and with his parishioners. In making decisions affecting the good of the parish, he is to carefully consider the advice of the parishioners, especially his advisory committees, but the final decision is his as pastor.

I’m left with a couple of questions: The plaintiffs’ lawyer says they only want an accounting for the assets of the parish, while the bishop says that the lawsuit wants to tell the diocese where to build its churches. They can’t both be telling the truth. What does the lawsuit actually say?

Second, the tension between clericalism and congregationalism in the Church is one of the most contentious today, exacerbated by the Scandal and the perception of “a pray, pay, obey and ignore the pervert in the corner” mentality on the one hand and a “we are the church”, “it’s my parish”, “I don’t like that doctrine” mentality on the other. Finding the correct balance is one of the challenges we have to deal with.

Technorati Tags: | | | | | |

Taxing closed churches

A New Hampshire state court has ruled that the city of Nashua may tax closed churches. Actually, it said it can previous property taxes it levied.

The Diocese of Manchester closed two Catholic parishes in 2003, but they were not sold until September 2004 and property taxes were levied and paid for 2004. In the time between the closing and sale, according to the diocese, they were used for storage of “religious items.” A lower court had ruled that the storage of religious items constituted religious use under the First Amendment and thus exempt from taxation. The higher court disagreed.

In the court’s ruling, Associate Justice James E. Duggan wrote, “the mere storage of religious objects in a deconsecrated church does not rise to the level of using or occupying the space for ‘religious purposes.’ ”

Duggan added, “Instead, it amounts to using the space for convenient interim storage” while the church was being sold.

He said the court’s ruling was consistent with case law and with “the legislative intent of religious tax exemption statute.”

I’m not sure what the state’s religious tax exemption law says, but it appears that in order to qualify for exemption a building must have a specifically religious purpose. But doesn’t that mean the state has to define what constitutes a particular religion’s mission and purpose?

What is often so troubling about court rulings on separation of church and state is that the state makes such distinctions all the time. The government and its agencies are constantly deciding what is an actual religion and what is not, what is a religious practice and what is not. (Otherwise every Tom, Dick, and Jim-Bob could declare his house is a church and his job is a religious practice and thus everyone could be exempt from taxes.)

Apparently the mayor of Nashua would prefer not to have to tax closed churches at all, but would rather see such churches remain open—or at least he recognizes that’s what his constituents would rather see.

Nashua Mayor Bernie Streeter said that while he’s happy with the court decision, he would have preferred the churches hadn’t become vacant.“While I am pleased the city prevailed, I don’t expect there is a mayor anywhere in this nation who looks forward to taxing former places of worship,” Streeter said.

“But as the city and the judge correctly pointed out, when a church becomes vacant or the land and buildings are not used for religious purposes, it becomes taxable property,” he said.

The diocese paid a total of $56,000 in taxes on the two properties.

Technorati Tags: | | | | |

Strange bedfellows

I have to wonder: why is the editor-in-chief of Boston’s gay newspaper—which is very hostile to the Church—writing articles defending the Tridentine Mass Community and the closing Holy Trinity Church?

Gay activists defending Traditionalists. Makes your head spin.

Susan Ryan-Vollmar is editor-in-chief of Bay Windows, a sister publication of the South End News. The News has been covering the situation at Holy Trinity, which is in the South End of Boston. But it seems unusual to have Ryan-Vollmar writing an op-ed summarizing the history of the dispute over Holy Trinity and the Latin Mass community in the South End News. She says her connection to the parish is that her maternal grandparents, now deceased, worshipped at the parish. But is that enough to give her an attachment to it?

Or is she taking the opportunity to make hay, trying to continue efforts to turn faithful Catholics against their archbishop and the archdiocese as her own newspaper, Bay Windows, has been doing for years, most notably because the Church is their major opponent in efforts to legally create the fiction of same-sex marriage?

Put aside the deflating reality that the religious leader of the Boston Archdiocese, a position once revered by all Bostonians regardless of faith, has been reduced to issuing press releases about being in full compliance with policies ensuring that priests will not molest children. Instead, focus on what it must be like to be a Catholic in this Archdiocese. An ordinary lay Catholic who has managed to keep their faith throughout this grotesque spectacle. Imagine that they’ve been told that their church is going to be closed. Imagine that the reasons given for the closure don’t make any sense — and a financial audit confirms their worst suspicions. Imagine being stonewalled and lied to by Archdiocesan administrators like Bishop Richard Lennon (who now leads the diocese of Cleveland).

The people who built Holy Trinity deserve so much more from the Archdiocese. Taken in the most generous possible light, the Archdiocese’s treatment of Holy Trinity’s parishioners has been a lesson in learning that faith is not about place. Of course, Holy Trinity’s parishioners already understand that. All they have been asking for is an explanation that simply makes sense. At this juncture, it’s clear that they’re never going to get it. Sadly, that isn’t even the most tragic element of this ordeal. The real tragedy is that those who run the Archdiocese don’t have the humility to understand what they’ve done. [emphasis added]

Seems clear to me that’s what’s going on. If I were a member of Holy Trinity parish or the Latin Mass community, I wouldn’t be happy that Ryan-Vollmar was trying to appear to be on my side. The old saying is that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Do you really want the archdiocese to be your enemy?

Technorati Tags: | | | | | | |

Jesuit Urban Center to close; money woes cited

Here’s a “parish closing” I don’t think will be protested by many here: The Jesuits are closing the Jesuit Urban Center in Boston. The JUC has long been known as a gay cruising spot, having once been voted as the top such place by “Boston” magazine.

In addition, it’s been known for the extent of heterodoxy spread about in that place, which has come to bear little resemblance to the actual Catholic faith. As Diogenes said, the rainbow sashes hung over the sanctuary are superfluous.

How about this Feast of Christ the King homily by Fr. John Loftus, SJ?

… I’m sure there are many more in our community who can say that they have had some first-hand experience with Queens. But I’ve decided that it’s probably best not to go there! (Although it has been seriously suggested by some, like Matthew Fox, that the contemporary church does need to learn to speak of the Queendom of Christ). Personally I don’t think that image really helps much. And the more neutral “reign” of God doesn’t help many either.

And let’s not forget last year’s Ash Wednesday homily that advised parishioners to “Let this Lent be a Brokeback Lent.”

So, why are they closing this font of so-called Jesuit values? Money.

The Rev. Thomas J. Regan , the superior of the New England Jesuits, said in an interview that the rationale for the closing is purely financial. He said that the order, long associated with education, has become financially reliant on the salaries paid to priests who teach at Boston College, the College of the Holy Cross, and Fairfield University — all Jesuit schools — but that as many of those priests retire or die, the order is being forced to cut back on its activities.

Regan said that he had received no pressure from the Vatican, the Jesuit headquarters in Rome, or the Archdiocese of Boston, to close the church, and that the sexual orientation of the worshipers played no role in his decision.

As I said when Fr. Walter Cuenin was removed from his parish for financial improprieties and not his track record of heterodox advocacy, why not? Why wasn’t the place reprimanded or pressured to change its wayward activities?

Incidentally, I wonder when Voice of the Faithful and the Council of Parishes will issue their press releases deploring this parish closing and when the parishioners will occupy the church to keep it from closing and accuse the Jesuits of being money-grubbers and insensitive to the pastoral needs of the people.

Where will they go?

Technorati Tags: | | | | |

Next Page →