Vatican instructions give parishioners more hope in face of closings

National Catholic Reporter

August 6, 2020

By Mark Nacinovich

Arthur McCaffrey fought for about a decade to keep his parish in suburban Boston open.

But in 2015, St. James the Great Parish in Wellesley was demolished. The site is now home to the Boston Sports Performance Center, a large recreational center complete with a hockey rink, swimming pool and indoor field.

St. James was one of nine Boston-area churches that kept a continuous vigil to prevent their parishes from being shuttered by the Boston Archdiocese in the wake of the sex abuse crisis that was brought to light in 2002 by The Boston Globe. Parishioners occupied the churches for years, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

St. Frances X. Cabrini in Scituate was the last of the vigil holdouts. It closed in 2016, after parishioners spent almost 12 years in vigil and exhausted their legal appeals to the Vatican and in civil courts. Their civil case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case, letting stand a lower-court ruling that stated that the archdiocese owned the church’s property and the parishioners who were keeping vigil were trespassing.

Now, four years later, the Vatican’s new document on pastoral care raises the question of whether parishioners have more legal recourse within the church to keep their parishes open. The answer appears to be yes.

The 22-page document from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, released July 20, is titled “The pastoral conversion of the parish community in the service of the evangelizing mission of the church.” It discusses the role and structure of parishes in today’s digital age, where the concept of a fixed parish that covers a certain area may be outdated. One topic the document addresses is the closing of parishes.

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