Short memory

Short memory

Parishioners at St. Bernard in Newton, Mass., say they’ve been betrayed by the Archdiocese of Boston. Where have I heard that before? They said they were persuaded to give up their sit-in last winter when Archbishop O’Malley promised to restore them as a fully functioning parish with no restrictions.

In a letter dated Dec. 17, 2004, , O’Malley said he wanted to ‘‘clarify” his intention regarding reconfiguration of Newton’s seven parishes. ‘‘I am reaffirming that St. Bernard’s, West Newton is to remain open as a fully functioning parish,” he said. The statement did not elaborate on a timetable.

That’s not how it happened at all. This is what the official statement from the archdiocese, dated December 14, said:

[T]he Newton Catholic population at St. Bernard and Corpus Christi parishes invites further analysis and evaluation; ... One priest will be administrator for both Saint Bernard Parish and Corpus Christi Parish and will work with both parishes during the course of the coming year in order to make a recommendation for providing pastoral care in an ongoing and stable manner for these two communities.

And in this Boston Globe story, dated December 17, it is clear that St. Bernard and Corpus Christi parish would merge:

O’Malley announced Tuesday that St. Bernard could remain open, but over the next year it would have to meet with parishioners from nearby Corpus Christi in Auburndale and devise a plan to merge the two churches.

At the time, a leader of the protest acknowledged what was happening:

“We do not like the process put before us,” said Joe Drake, cochairman of the Friends of St. Bernard, a group established to oversee the vigil. “It’s pitting Catholics against Catholics. It’s an unfair situation.”

For these same people to claim ignorance of that fact is to ask us to ignore the facts.

The prayer vigil, the third in as many weeks, is intended to send the message that parishioners expect the archdiocese to restore St. Bernard to its former stature as a fully functioning church. “We quite frankly aim to make them keep that commitment,” said Joseph Drake, one of three cochairs of Friends of St. Bernard.

The bottom line is that the archdiocese never promised that St. Bernard would be completely restored as a fully functioning parish, but that over the next year they would have to work with their neighboring parish to determine how, at the end of the alloted time, there would be one parish remaining. Like petulant children, they want to pretend that they weren’t told what they don’t want to hear and that they only heard what they wanted.

  • Does this mean that the Dec. 17 letter by Abp. O’Malley, and the quote about a “fully functioning parish” don’t exist? 

    Perhaps the quote was real, but just another ill-thought-out product of an Archdiocese operating in panic mode.

  • Drake said when he started attending the church 15 years ago, 5,000 people were registered with the parish, with 700 to 1,000 regularly attending Mass.  The closing announcement caused that to dip sharply to about 150 to 200.  Now that some parishioners expect the church could stay open, Drake said that number is up to 400.

    Well, I suppose you could chalk up some of the number swings to disheartenment and reheartenment, but it looks to me like evidence of parish shopping.

    (Disclaimer: IANAJCL)

    As long as the territorial parish exists canonically, it is defined as a stable community of the faithful who are resident within its borders.  Each member of the faithful obtains his proper Pastor and Bishop by his territorial residence. 

    The Pastor is obliged to offer at least one Mass weekly for all the Faithful under his care.  This means there is not only a legal bond, by which the territorial parish is defined to include you whether you like it or not, but there is also a spiritual bond connecting the faithful, whether they like it or not, to their proper Pastor through our Eucharistic Lord. 

    Drake said now is the critical time to register children for the fall or face the risk that parents will take them elsewhere.

    ‘‘We have got to deal with this issue immediately,” Drake said. ‘‘By not creating the religious education program, you are basically halting the growth and the restoration of the parish.”

    Now he might be saying that Catholic parents will change their residence or raise their children in a different religion, but it’s more likely he’s worried about Catholics drifting to other parishes.  In other words, he sees his own parish in competition with other parishes for adherents, numbers, parishioners. 

    The Reconfiguration process may have reinforced this outlook by focusing on Mass attendance figures, which are more a referendum on the pastor’s popularity than an indicator of the actual number of practicing Faithful in a particular territorial parish. 

    It is as if we have never heard the exhortation of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13:

    [E]ach of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Kephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”  Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?   

    I give thanks (to God) that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say you were baptized in my name.

    Ah, if all priests and DRE’s had such humility!

  • The problem here, Dom, is Archbishop Sean misrepresented the situation in his letter to the parishioners of St. Bernard when he wrote, senior partner in a realignment or that compelling arguments would be offered why they should not be.  So, far neither has been the case, which is why, I take it, they feel betrayed.

    That said, I must thank seamole for his quotation of St. Paul which, of course, is affirmed in the Nicene Creed’s expression of belief in “one holy catholic and apostolic Catholic church.”  As Dom has acknowledged, keeping this tenet of the faith in mind is quite a challenge when the building that has been the heart of one’s temporal identity and spiritual community is being taken away.

  • I think calling it a misrepresentation is stretching it a bit. I think it would be more fair to say that he used an ambiguous term. As you say, what did it mean for it to “remain” as a “fully functioning parish,” when it had not been for some time?

    Still, I think the St. Bernard parishioners, when confronted with what they saw as an inconsistency chose to take it in the light most favorable to their cause rather than to seek clarification.

    That doesn’t absolve the archdiocese, because as soon as they became aware of the inconsistency they should have clarified. Indeed, they may have done just that and I missed it.

    As to how the merger would come about, whether the new parish should be at St. Bernard or Corpus Christi is irrelevant to the point here.

    The St. Bernard people are claiming that they are being betrayed because they are not allowed to be a fully functioning parish, based on a definition of the same that they are advancing, and are assuming that rather than an equal discussion about merger with CC, CC will be absorbed by them. Doesn’t sound like a discussion among equals.

    Why should they be able to assume they should be “senior partners” in realignment? The archdiocese never said they would be. That is an outright assumption on their part and not fair to the CC parishioners. It is beginning the negotations with a prejudged set of conditions.

  • I agree with you, Dom, that the archdiocese has to take responsibility for a gross misstatement, if not a misrepresentation, of the status of St, Bernard as remaining a “fully functioning parish,” when, in fact, it had already been suppressed for several months.  The impression left by this misstatement is that the chancery wasn’t even paying attention to its prior actions, not to mention giving clear-eyed inspection to the issues yet to be decided.  That the archdiocese never said that St. Bernard should be the senior patner in a realignment does not address that, according to the criteria which the archdiocese has set, St. Bernard is the larger and more vigorous church and physically capable of absorbing Corpus Christi within its plant, while CC is not capable of accommodatting St. Bernard nearly so easily.