O'Malley Lays out Plan for Church Closings for Priests

By Denise Lavoie
Associated Presss, carried in Telegram & Gazette [Weston MA]
Downloaded May 27, 2004

WESTON, Mass.- Archbishop Sean O'Malley met Thursday with priests from 65 parishes slated to close under a radical restructuring of the Boston Archdiocese, aiming to calm anger over the closings and provide logistics on the downsizing.

But two priests lashed out at O'Malley as they headed into the meeting at St. Julia Parish in Weston, saying his plan to shut the doors of so many churches was a drastic way of trying to solve the archdiocese's financial problems.

"This is part of a larger picture of financial mismanagement," said the Rev. Robert Bowers, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena in the Charlestown section of Boston.

"It's too fast, too hard and too harsh," Bowers said of O'Malley's plan to close 65 parishes in the next six months.

Bowers said he agreed that some churches must be closed to deal with declining Mass attendance and contributions, but the number to be closed and the rapid pace of the closings is unwarranted.

The Rev. Stephen Josoma, pastor of Saint Susanna in Dedham, said he was skeptical about O'Malley's explanation that the money from the sale of the closed churches will be used to support the programs and operations of the remaining 292 parishes in the archdiocese.

O'Malley has insisted that the money will not be used to pay for an $85 million settlement reached with victims of clergy sexual abuse or for future settlements with other victims.

"I think they need the money to pay off something that hasn't been explained to us," Josoma said.

"It's absolutely unnecessary at this time," he said of the planned 65 closings.

Josoma said he does not understand why his church was put on the closing list when attendance at the church has grown about 20 percent over the last two years, to about 800 families.

"It just doesn't make sense to close a parish that's kept faith for 44 years," he said.

Dozens of priests gathered to hear from O'Malley directly for the first time since Tuesday's release of the list of churches slated for closure.

The priests were expected to receive a "closing manual" from O'Malley, with instructions on everything from what to do with religious articles in their churches - including chalices, altars and stained-glass windows - to severance packages for employees and liturgical rites for final Masses.

O'Malley also planned to ask for input from the priests on the timing of the closings. Although the closings are scheduled to be done in two-month intervals over the next six months, O'Malley will ask for recommendations on which churches should close first, said the Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese. The dates for individual closings are expected to be given to priests within the next two weeks.

O'Malley has said the closings are needed to deal with dwindling Mass attendance, a reduction in collections, a shortage of priests and a financial crisis caused in part by the clergy sex abuse scandal that erupted in Boston more than two years ago.

Coyne said O'Malley would have no comment after the meeting, which was expected to last about five hours.