Your View: St. John's and the Catholic Hierarchy

By Carol Markey
South Coast Today
October 3, 2010

It was with sadness that I read that the closing of St. John's Church in New Bedford is a real possibility.

To me it was deja vu. I remember when St. John's School was closed in the 1970s ("merged," it was called). The school was built by the hard-working Portuguese community in New Bedford. It was a newer school than the school it "merged" with St. James.

Although St. John's had newer building, safer playground, was next to the Kennedy Center, etc., it didn't matter. The hierarchy at the time made the decision to close St. John's School no reason given. Ironically, the schoolchildren had to move to the St. John's building only a few years later when the furnace in the old building needed expensive repairs or replacement.

It appears to me that these good people have been hoodwinked again. I have no doubts about the good intentions of Father Jack Oliveira and the parishioners. They are very good, hard-working and honest people. They believe that committees and evangelization might change things for them. Personally, from past experience, I doubt it will change the situation for their church.

Why have the numbers of people attending church decreased? Could it be a loss of faith in the hierarchy? The shock of the sexual abuse scandals with millions paid out as hush money, legal settlements to victims and survivors and for legal fees? It is unquestionably a sad state of affairs.

Will committees be formed to discuss parish finances? (They are demanded by Canon Law for each parish.) Will they be real, viable and transparent?

If I were a member of the parish, I would be asking:

- Will the parish definitely stay open if the $750,000 is raised for roof repairs?

- Will the money be used for the roof even if the parish closes? Who will benefit then?

- If the complete sum is not raised, how will the funds be dispersed? Will they go to the diocese? Back to the donors?

- Does the parish have to ask permission to spend the money on repairs?

- Who will control the funds, the parish or the diocese?

There are so many other questions that might arise, and there seems to be little trust between the hierarchy and the laity ever since the millions of dollars were spent by the Church on the sex abuse scandal. Huge amounts of money were paid out for settlements to victims and their families, and it is especially difficult to think about the money paid to victims as hush money. Perhaps creating a parish finance committee which operates with transparency would begin to build up trust again.

The article says St. John's needs an infusion of funds to stave off closure. Could the Diocese of Fall River dig into its funds and contribute some capital to help St. John's? I agree with the person who said it is important to awaken the faith of the people and to develop a strong spirituality in the people. I also agree when he goes on to say that it all boils down to money.

Can we challenge the bishop to contribute to St. John's, a fair request considering all of the years of vibrancy and community that St. John's has given to the Fall River Diocese? In fact, if the diocese came up with only 8 percent of the funds it gave out in the abuse scandal by 2004, then the roof would be completely paid for (based on local news reports of diocesan payouts alone over $9 million not including funds paid through insurance policies)!

Then the people might begin to regain their faith in the hierarchy. They may begin to attend Sunday Masses, parish celebrations and church meetings. Then they might believe that the hierarchy believes in them and trusts the people of God (the "real Church" according to Vatican II).

I do wish Father Jack and the people of St. John's success, but in reality I have my doubts. Though I am not usually personally pessimistic, I expect a year from now to read the announcement that St. John's Church will close because the parishioners could not raise the funds in the time they were given.

I write because I sincerely believe that someone needs to speak truth to power.


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