A group of Roman Catholics asked Pope Benedict XVI to reverse the decision by the Boston Archdiocese to close their churches, which sparked a six-year fight and several round-the-clock parishioner vigils.
Peter Borre, of the Council of Parishes, said he walked through the bronze gate at Vatican City on Tuesday and delivered the long-shot appeal to a Vatican guard on behalf of nine closed parishes. “This is the end of the road,” Borre said. Borre all but dismissed chances for “a miraculous Hollywood ending,” but said the appeal was important as a final recourse within the church and to perhaps make space for negotiations that could prevent protesting parishioners from forming breakaway groups.
“It’s not an idle threat,” Borre said. “It’s a likely development in at least a couple cases.” In 2004, the archdiocese began a reconfiguration that reduced the number of parishes from 357 to 291 as it struggled with shrinking membership, declining numbers of priests and financial problems. Five churches have since been occupied by protesting parishioners. The archdiocese has not moved to take the buildings because Cardinal Sean O’Malley said he would not act until all the appeals were exhausted.
The archdiocese said that happened earlier this year, when the Vatican’s highest court, the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, denied their appeals after what Terry Donilon, a spokesman for the archdiocese, called “a lengthy and thorough” review. Donilon said the parishioners can’t appeal to the pope because, under church law, the Vatican high court rulings are made in the pope’s name. But Borre said the papal appeal was within the parishioners’ rights and was written by two experts in church law. The appeal will likely never be read by the pope himself, but was addressed to a top Vatican official, Monsignor Peter Wells, he said.
The appeal decries the “veritable massacre” of parishes in the archdiocese, and questions their logic and legality under various aspects of church law. “All we have left therefore is to turn to You, Holy Father, to understand that which so far has not been explained to us and to appeal to You, Vicar on Earth of the Supreme Judge,” the appeal reads. The appeal argues a reversal of the closings would strengthen the church’s mission of evangelization. It says continuing on the current course, and perhaps forcibly removing parishioners from occupied parishes, as has happened in other dioceses, would just do more damage. “Holy Father, do we really need this last scandal?” the appeal reads. “Haven’t we suffered enough?”
Borre said members of his group have discussed following the lead of members of a closed church in Cleveland, who formed a breakaway congregation earlier this year. But he said protesting parishioners don’t want to split with the church, and the archdiocese could use the coming months as the appeal is weighed to negotiate a settlement to prevent that, such as keeping the churches open as Catholic worship centers. Borre said his group does not expect the parishes to be fully reopened. “The restoration of things as they were before these parishes closed will never happen,” Borre said. Donilon said the archdiocese wants a peaceful resolution to the vigils, but said they can’t go on indefinitely.
“The cost in time, talent and treasure to our archdiocese is not something we can continue to sustain for an extended period of time,” he said. Donilon said any breakaway groups would have “no standing within the Roman Catholic Church” and dismissed the idea of negotiations to keep the buildings open as worship centers. “The appeals are over,” Donilon said.