Parish Appeals Merger to Vatican

By Jim Walsh

August 20, 2008

HADDON TWP. A parish here has asked the Vatican to enter its dispute with Bishop Joseph Galante over a planned reconfiguration of the Diocese of Camden.

Lay leaders at St. Vincent Pallotti have filed an appeal with the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome, seeking to block a merger with St. Aloysius of Oaklyn.

"None of it makes sense," Ed Pierzynski, a St. Vincent Pallotti parishioner, said of the merger, which would end the use of the Westmont church as a worship site. The planned merger is part of a program, announced by Galante in April, to cut the number of parishes in the diocese from 124 to 66 over a two-year period.

The appeal is meant to freeze the merger process in the two parishes "until the whole administrative recourse process has come to conclusion in Rome," said Pierzynski. He expressed confidence that the Vatican body "will be an advocate for our parish rights."

But church law won't allow that yet, said Andrew Walton, a diocesan spokesman.

"Right now there is nothing to appeal because there is no new parish," he said. "Appeals are reserved for the time at which there's been a decree (by Galante to create a new parish)."

He said planning for the merger continues.

Pierzynski said the appeal, signed by "the entire leadership of the parish," was filed through Papal Nuncio Pietro Sambi, the Vatican's ambassador to the United States.

Sambi could not be reached.

Pierzynski said parish leaders question "the procedural actions used by the bishop, the lack of transparency . . . and the questionable decisions being made."

Both sides disagreed sharply over the level of communication between parishioners and Galante.

"The bishop has heard their concerns," said Walton, noting Galante formed an independent panel to review issues raised by St. Vincent Pallotti parishioners, particularly concerning access for people with disabilities.

But Pierzynski said Galante has yet to report to parishioners on that issue, even though the panel completed its work last month. "We've asked for a lot of things that have not been responded to or have been denied," said Pierzynski, vice president of Friends of St. Vincent Pallotti.

Galante expects to respond to the disability concerns "before Labor Day," Walton said. He added critics have not challenged the need for a merger between the parishes, but have focused on the loss of St. Vincent Pallotti Church as a worship site.

"The small fish is swallowing the big fish," said Pierzynski, who noted St. Vincent Pallotti has 900 families, compared to 741 at St. Aloysius.

More appeals are likely as mergers take effect, said Robert Walsh at the Council of Parishes for Southern New Jersey, a grass-roots group that's not connected with this week's action.

"It is our intent that every parish should appeal once the bishop issues a decree," said Walsh, a member of Our Lady Queen of Peace parish in Pitman. "Our appeal is ready."

Reach Jim Walsh at (856) 486-2646 or


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