Mater Dolorosa Vigil Continues after Court Refuses to Order Protesters to Leave Holyoke Church

By Jeanette Deforge
The Republican
February 7, 2012

Attorney John J. Egan, center, represents the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield during a hearing last month in Hampden Superior Court. A judge refused Monday to issue an order telling protesters to leave the former Mater Dolorosa Church in Holyoke.
Photo by Michael S. Gordon

Joe Borucki, of South Hadley, holds his photograph of the scores of Polish Catholic faithful of the the Mater Dolorosa Church having a prayer service inside the closed church. The group has been holding a 24-hour vigil for six-months hoping to keep the church open after the Springfield Diocese closed the church. He is outside the church underneath the steeple that the churchs claims is unsafe and in need of repair.
Photo by David Molnar

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SPRINGFIELD A Hampden Superior Court judge declined to order protesters of Mater Dolorosa Church to leave the Holyoke building, saying the separation of church and state denies him that authority.

While protesters celebrated the decision even though three of their own counterclaims were denied officials for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield said they are considering an appeal.

Judge Cornelius J. Moriarty II said there was a flaw in the argument of the diocese that said the case is a simple question of building ownership.

"The law of trespass necessarily requires an examination of whether the alleged trespasser possesses a right of entry," Moriarty wrote in his explanation, saying that decision is a matter of canon law.

Mark E. Dupont, a spokesman for the diocese, said officials are disappointed because the judge refused to recognize the church has basic rights to own property that have nothing to do with religion.

"The court has refused to recognized the legitimate and lawful rights of the diocese as a property owner, basically relegating it to a second class entity," Dupont said in a written statement.

In his ruling, Moriarty also said he had no jurisdiction over protesters' claims that the diocese committed fraud and breach of fiduciary duty by failing to produce financial statements to them.

He rejected a third complaint of civil rights violations, saying the protesters failed to prove their claim.

"I think the judge did the right thing," said Peter Stasz, a member of the Friends of Mater Dolorosa which is conducting the vigil. "Usually the diocese gets sued and this time they brought the suit, and the judges said it is an ecclesiastic matter that should be decided under canon law."

Seven people, including Stasz and Victor Anop, were listed by name in the suit along with the Friends of Mater Dolorosa. Stasz and Anop, who are lawyers, defended the group.

This is the second time a judge rejected a request for a court ruling requiring the protesters to leave the church. In October, Hampden Superior Court Judge C. Jeffrey Kinder refused to grant a preliminary injunction to force the protesters to leave the church immediately. In that case the diocese requested the emergency order saying there is serious structural problems with the church steeple that could prove to be a danger.

The protesters are also continuing the appeal of the church closing to the Apostolic Signatura, which is the highest court in the Vatican.

Already the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome rejected the protesters' appeal of Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell's original order to close Mater Dolorosa and the nearby Holy Cross Church. The two parishes joined together to create a new church, Our Lady of the Cross, which worships at the former Holy Cross Church also in Holyoke.

The 24-hour vigil, which has lasted seven months, will continue even though the protesters are relying on space heaters to keep warm, Stasz said.

"It is not easy. It just shows the dedication of the people," Stasz said. "It is cold and it is winter and it is not a lot of fun being down there."

In an email to The Republican, Dupont said the heating system had been set to around 55 degrees to prevent pipes from freezing and to preserve the integrity of the structure.

"We do this for any closed church building that is either under appeal or in the process of being sold for re-use," he wrote.


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