Keeping the Faith

By Susan Ryan-Vollmar
South End News [Boston MA]
May 3, 2007

The inevitable is taking place: the Holy Trinity (German) Church on Shawmut Avenue is finally closing. No, the church isn't anywhere near close to shutting its doors for good, but on April 15, the last Latin Mass was celebrated at the church, exactly 17 years after the first one was held.

The Latin Mass parishioners were the lifeblood of the church, which was founded in 1842 by German Catholics. Although there is still a passionate community of German worshippers at Holy Trinity, they are both aging and few in number. (Full disclosure: My maternal grandparents, both of whom are now deceased, worshipped at Holy Trinity.) It's clear that in recent years the Latin Mass parishioners brought in most of the money and congregants to the parish. While some of the Latin Mass parishioners have chosen to stay at Holy Trinity and worship with the German parish, most of the congregation has left. Some are glad to have moved on to a fresh beginning and, really, who can blame them?

Holy Trinity has been embroiled in almost continuous controversy since the Archdiocese announced in 2004 that the church would be closed. Several closure deadlines came and went without word from the Archdiocese, engendering not just confusion and mistrust but, perhaps most cruelly, reason for optimism among those who desperately wanted to see their church remain open.

Meanwhile, an audit demanded by parishioners uncovered the primary reason for Holy Trinity's seeming financial intransigence: its administrator, the Rev. Hugh O'Regan had been transferring funds — $176,360 over six years — from Holy Trinity into the bank account of the other church he oversaw, St. James the Greater in Chinatown. When the chicanery was discovered, the Archdiocese immediately loaned St. James the Greater the money necessary to pay Holy Trinity back. Only after O'Regan's incompetent management of Holy Trinity was revealed did the Archdiocese abandon a misguided plan to move Holy Trinity's assets and parishioners to St. James the Greater.

Now the Latin Mass has been moved to Mary Immaculate of Lourdes in Newton, which leaves Holy Trinity with much less than half of its former population of worshippers. Although the German parishioners have been assigned a chaplain, they do not yet have a new home in which to worship. It's unclear where the Archdiocese will try to send them. The Cardinal Medeiros Center, one of the two social service agencies housed in the church, is slated to be moved to Our Lady of Victories on Isabella Street. As for Bridge Over Troubled Water, which helps homeless youth, the Archdiocese is leaving them to fend for themselves. They can stay until a new buyer is found. After that, they can negotiate with the new owner.

Holy Trinity's remaining parishioners are angry with the Archdiocese and understandably so. Throughout this years' long process, communication from the Archdiocese has been spotty, at best — and that's putting it charitably. Even the social workers running the Cardinal Medeiros Center, a homeless shelter for men over 45, have been wary of Archdiocesan officials. The only way the move to Our Lady of Victories can work is with significantly financial help from the Archdiocese. But as Sandy Albright, the executive director of Kit Clark Senior Services, which administers the Cardinal Medeiros Center, told South End News last December, she'll believe that the help is forthcoming when she sees it in writing.

The backdrop to the drama of the closure of Holy Trinity — and the entire Reconfiguration process itself, which has seen the closure of 59 parishes and 44 church buildings — has, of course, been the clergy sex abuse scandal. The Archdiocese has always insisted that the two events are unrelated. They may very well be. But it's hard to separate the $93 million that the Archdiocese has had to pay to settle lawsuits alleging sexual abuse from the $63 million that's been raised by the sale of shuttered churches. Last month, just five days before the Latin Mass parishioners were moved to Newton, the Archdiocese announced that it was finally in compliance with all 13 requirements of a 2002 policy enacted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to prevent additional molestation of children by priests.

In an April 10 press release marking the occasion, Cardinal Seán O'Malley said: "Our continuing efforts to protect children have resulted in significant progress. While much has been achieved, I recognize that work must continue to be done in order to maintain safe environments in both our churches and schools. Protecting our children and preventing sexual abuse remains paramount and we will continue to work diligently as we strive to ensure our children's safety."

In 2006, after the audit commissioned by the UCCB was completed, it was discovered that the Archdiocese was seriously out of compliance with the requirement that children be educated in what is proper touch from an adult and what isn't. Twenty-two of the 30 parishes randomly selected by the auditors failed to meet the standards of the new policy. Put aside for a moment the image of the Archdiocese, the very organization that covered up decades of child abuse, training children in how to recognize and report molestation. Put aside the deflating reality that the religious leader of the Boston Archdiocese, a position once revered by all Bostonians regardless of faith, has been reduced to issuing press releases about being in full compliance with policies ensuring that priests will not molest children. Instead, focus on what it must be like to be a Catholic in this Archdiocese. An ordinary lay Catholic who has managed to keep their faith throughout this grotesque spectacle. Imagine that they've been told that their church is going to be closed. Imagine that the reasons given for the closure don't make any sense — and a financial audit confirms their worst suspicions. Imagine being stonewalled and lied to by Archdiocesan administrators like Bishop Richard Lennon (who now leads the diocese of Cleveland).

The people who built Holy Trinity deserve so much more from the Archdiocese. Taken in the most generous possible light, the Archdiocese's treatment of Holy Trinity's parishioners has been a lesson in learning that faith is not about place. Of course, Holy Trinity's parishioners already understand that. All they have been asking for is an explanation that simply makes sense. At this juncture, it's clear that they're never going to get it. Sadly, that isn't even the most tragic element of this ordeal. The real tragedy is that those who run the Archdiocese don't have the humility to understand what they've done.



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