Priest 'Begged' a Halt to Protest: St. Ann's Parishioners Say Bishop Lennon Directed Pastor to Put Stop to Demonstration

By Carolyn Kessel Stewart
MetroWest Daily News
August 3, 2004

MARLBOROUGH -- Closing the longtime Italian parish of St. Ann's has become a hostile and divisive battle between locals and an administration that has distanced itself from the situation, parishioners say.

Parishioners at St. Ann's claim the animosity has grown so intense between the Archdiocese of Boston and their parish that in June their priest was threatened he would lose his job immediately if he did not keep his flock quiet.

Two longtime parishioners say Auxiliary Bishop of Boston Richard G. Lennon pressured their priest into halting a protest by threatening to throw him out of his church and home.

In June, the parishioners were planning to take seven buses to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston to attend Mass and protest the closing of their church. But the night before the protest, parishioners Denis Denommee and Ted Rabidou got a phone call from their pastor, the Rev. Michael Bercik, asking them not to go.

According to Rabidou and Denommee, Lennon called Bercik's superior and told him to stop the protest or Bercik would be asked to leave St. Ann's immediately.

Neither Bercik nor his superior, the Rev. Robert Campagne, O.F.M., could be reached for comment. Campagne is the minister of Franciscan friars in the Province of the Immaculate Conception in New York City.

The spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston could not be reached yesterday.

"(Bercik) took it as a real threat. He was really shook up about it, he begged us not to go. He said it was going to cause all kind of trouble," Denommee said.

Rabidou said he could tell by the tone of Bercik's voice that he was nervous, and then called Campagne to verify the story.

The protest planned for Boston would have been large but peaceful, Denommee said.

Parishioners were planning to quietly attend Mass at the cathedral and then wave signs in support of the friars after the Mass, "nothing disruptive by any stretch of the imagination."

Parishioners are not only disturbed by what they believe happened to their priest, but Denommee and Rabidou also wrote a letter to the archdiocese and local church leaders asking why their questions have not been answered and criticizing the archdiocese for its actions throughout the closure process.

In May, St. Ann's parish learned that along with the smaller parish of St. Mary's and more than 60 churches in the Archdiocese of Boston, it would be closed. Parishioners were shocked and have appealed the closure.

The last Mass as St. Ann's is scheduled for Aug. 29. The church is to remain open for Portuguese, Spanish and English Masses under the direction of Immaculate Conception.

When asked by the archdiocese to recommend which churches be closed in the city, church leaders and parishioners asked to keep the Franciscan friars, who have served the church at no cost to the archdiocese for 84 years. Bercik has been pastor at St. Ann's for 14 years.

Denommee was on the cluster committee to recommend which churches should be closed and remembered tension between the largest church in the city, Immaculate Conception, and St. Ann's.

"It was very hostile, it was very threatening from the beginning. We were constantly being told that we were less than Immaculate Conception or St. Matthias, that we were less viable than them. It was surreal, here we were the most productive, most vibrant parish in the city," he said.

"What I've learned here (is) everything that happened in the sex abuse scandal didn't change (the Boston archdiocese's) modus operandi. They act the same way, they try to do things in secret."

Denommee is one of hundreds of parishioners considering a move to St. Bernadette's in the Archdiocese of Worcester, a large church that has welcomed all Marlborough parishioners forced to find a new church.

"I say it's time to move on. I don't know if it's any better in Worcester, but I'm going to try," Denommee said.

( Carolyn Kessel Stewart can be reached at 508-490-7475 or )


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