Could the future of Catholicism be taking shape in this church basement?

By Neil Swidey
October 8, 2019

In Fall River, a group of parishioners won the chance to run their crumbling church. If their experiment works here, it might just work anywhere.

I WAS SURE THE CATHOLIC CHURCH had lost the ability to wound me — or even to make me care.

Like so many others brought up in the church, I had drifted away in the face of its leaders’ princely arrogance, never mind outright criminality. There are only so many times you can hear about yet another bishop covering up for yet another predator in a collar, who had shredded the life of yet another vulnerable child. Or see a pastor call the cops to clear a church of its most loyal parishioners, as one did in Natick in 2004, leading to arrests on Christmas morning.

Many people made the difficult decision to stick with the Roman Catholic Church after the revelations in 2002 about widespread clergy sex abuse in the Boston Archdiocese, only to feel a new wave of violation a few years later. They were forced to watch their local church get shuttered as part of a diocesan real estate sell-off meant to confront dwindling attendance and mounting legal bills. Church closings tend to be the ultimate local issue, though. If yours is on the chopping block, you care passionately. Otherwise, it can seem like somebody else’s problem.

Yet it doesn’t always work that way. If the Fall River Diocese that I grew up in had closed the church where I was baptized, or the one where I made my First Communion and was confirmed, it frankly would not have mattered much to me. It wasn’t until the bishop of Fall River announced last year his plan to close St. Anne’s Church — a parish that no one in my family had ever officially belonged to — when I felt the dagger draw blood.

The idea that this magnificent structure — built more than a century ago with the sweat, pennies, and craftsmanship of French-Canadian mill workers — would simply be boarded up, and then perhaps razed to make a parking lot, struck me as supremely wrong. There was absolutely no indication then that this death warrant would end up sparking the most promising feelings I’ve had about a Catholic undertaking in a long time.


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