Church Group Unites against Closings

By Laura Crimaldi
Metro-West Daily News
August 11, 2004

NEWTON -- Frustrated that their voices aren't being heard and upset that their chances for appeal are tied up by the Archdiocese of Boston, parishioners from closing churches are joining forces to show solidarity.

"Nobody with a voice has been able to speak out and say this is a catastrophe...No one cares to take on the Catholic Church," St. Anselm's parishioner Fiona Keating of Sudbury said yesterday at a meeting sponsored by Voice of the Faithful.

Parishioners from St. Anselm's in Sudbury, St. Jeremiah's in Framingham, St. Susanna's in Dedham and Sacred Heart in South Natick opened up to reporters in the basement of St. Ignatius Loyola on Commonwealth Avenue five days before VOTF takes to Boston Common Sunday to celebrate a Mass for "healing and unity."

Church closing dates have already been floated at St. Anselm's, St. Jeremiah's and Sacred Heart, but so far none of those churches have received a closure decree from Archbishop Sean O'Malley.

That means the parishes can't file an appeal until the decree arrives.

"It's really a lack of answers. If there is a direction, if there's a game plan, let us know about it," said St. Jeremiah's parishioner Bill Sell, who spoke with his 18-year-old son Adam at his side. "It's the ultimate Catch-22. You can't prepare for what you don't know."

Once the decree is issued, the pastor or any parishioner has 10 days to appeal in a letter to the archbishop. O'Malley then has 30 days to reverse his decision or reject the appeal. No response is the same as rejecting the appeal.

After that, parties have between 10 and 15 days to appeal to the Vatican.

Kathleen Heck, a lawyer hired by the archdiocese to coordinate the closings, said any allegation that the church is trying to delay the appeal process is "totally false."

"He (O'Malley) wanted it done in total consultation with people affected by it," Heck said. "Decrees must contain the effective date of closing and the name of the receiving parish. You can't write the decree until you have the information. The archbishop preferred to have that information from the field, as opposed to telling it (to the parishes)."

St. Anselm's is scheduled to close on Sept. 15, though six parishioners at the meeting said they have hired a lawyer and plan to file an appeal.

Because appeals have to be based on canon law, parishioners said they plan to argue the church was not adequately represented by the Presbyteral Council.

That council of priests was responsible for advising O'Malley about the church closures once recommendations from cluster groups and the archdiocese's Central Committee were submitted.

"Show good faith. Sixty-nine churches are closing and only 10 are filing an appeal. Grant them the appeal and show the Catholic Church still has a heart," said Keating, who has been attending St. Anselm's for eight years.

Although few were optimistic their parishes could be saved, some have hopes their church could still have a future as a worship or seminary site.

Sacred Heart parishioner Paul Quigley, 43, said he hoped an institution like Boston College would buy the South Natick church and rectory. The Framingham resident is part of a lay group that formed to try to save the church, Parishioners and Friends of Sacred Heart.

"Most people in that area would like to see it open or used as an oratory," said Quigley.

Because Sacred Heart is located in the John Eliot Historical District and is listed on the National Register of Historical Places, dramatic changes cannot be made to the church's appearance, Quigley said.

If the church does close as scheduled on Dec. 27, Quigley plans to attend St. Ann's in Wayland. That's where his wife, Karla, received the sacraments to become a Catholic last year, he said.

"I was hoping my daughter could make her first Communion (at Sacred Heart)," Quigley said of his 7-year-old daughter Kate.

A bus is taking St. Jeremiah's parishioners to the VOTF Mass Sunday on Boston Common, which will be celebrated by four priests, including the Rev. Stephen Josoma of St. Susanna's in Dedham.

The Sells plan to attend with fellow parishioners Jackie Lemmerhirt and Lorraine Dray, both of Framingham. None of them belong to VOTF, but feel compelled to attend the Mass.

"They talk about a parish as being the center of the spiritual community. When they want to close it, they characterize it as just bricks. For someone who has been sitting in those bricks for 46 years, that hurts," said Dray.

( Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at 508-626-4416 )