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.