Judge tosses parish closing suit

Judge tosses parish closing suit

A judge has tossed out a suit against the Archdiocese of Boston filed by parishioners of a closed East Boston parish. The mainly Italian group of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parishioners—who have been, shall we say, unreserved in their invective against the cardinal and the archdiocese, likening the closing to ethnic cleansing—had claimed in their lawsuit that the parish was a trust run by the archdiocese for the benefit of the parishioners, who funded the parish in the first place. The lawsuit was destined to fail from the beginning, not the least because in order for there to be a legal trust, one has to have filed papers with the state in order to set it up, which of course was never done. In fact, the parish was not set up by parishioners at all, but was founded by the archdiocese, as all the archdiocesan parishes are. You can’t be a parish unless you are so designated by the bishop.

The root of the problem is a lack of education for your average Catholic. For most Catholics, especially those of a certain age, the Catholic Church is their parish and the parish is the Catholic Church. They have very little sense of belonging to a Church bigger than themselves and so when some “outsiders” come in to shut them down, they circle the wagons. It also explains why they don’t simply go to the next closest parish, which is less than a mile or so away, while younger Catholics who generally don’t have deep-seated attachments to parishes and are used to moving from one place to another at will don’t generally have the same reactions. (The difference is in certain suburban parishes where you have kids who grew up in the parish and who have never known another one.)

So for any diocese looking at future parish closings, the lesson is to first educate your people about the nature of the Church so that they understand that they are first part of the Church of your diocese, not parishes. The problem is mainly one of ecclesiology.

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  • I wasn’t suggesting parish-hopping become the norm. People should belong to a single parish, but their identity shouldn’t become so tied to a single parish that they can’t imagine belonging to another.

  • Just a couple of things:

    First, there are three churches within easy walking distance of OL Mt Carmel:  Assumption, Sacred Heart and Most Holy Redeemer.  And when I say easy walking distance, I mean EASY walking distance—a few city blocks, church to church.

    Second, Dom, we need to take a longer-view of this parish-centrism.  It’s not that long ago (40 years) when people were being urged to identify with their territorial parishes, when people were turned away for sacraments because they didn’t live within the territorial boundaries of a parish, even though they might have worshipped there.  The diocese—perhaps even the Vatican—supported this identity with a parish (and, therefore, with a particular church building) up until the mid-seventies. 

    Even though a good number of these sit-in activists full of baloney (any number of them didn’t darken the door of their church for years prior to beginning an occupation), there is for others a longstanding sense of belonging to a particular church (building), a sense that was nurtured and encouraged by the larger Church, the diocese.

    Just my two cents’ worth.

  • The problem is typically bad management, not ecclesiology, unless ecclesiology demands bad maangement.

    And typically, parishes founded before 1900 are owned by the parishoners, though through various (secular)Legal manipulations, the Bishops have asserted their ownership of most of parishes in the US, in contradiction to the recommendations of Canon Law.