The Catholic archdiocese of Boston has been following its schedule to close nearly a fifth of the district’s parishes by 2005. While most of the selected churches have readily given in, some, such as St. Albert’s in Weymouth, has been fighting for its last breath with sit-ins, prayer vigils and lawsuits against the archdiocese.
Since Sunday, August 30, parishioners at St. Albert’s signed up for round-the-clock vigils, refusing to leave the church. About 200 other parishioners have signed sheets volunteering to take sit-in-shifts. As part of the sit-in-protest against the closure, the members slept on the pews of the church overnight.
In late May, St. Albert’s received a letter saying it would have to close its doors by the end of the year; eighty other churches in the region also received similar letters, making this year’s massive closures the largest in the history of U.S. Catholicism.
"I wish there was some way that all of these wonderful houses of life and prayer could remain open and alive and full. But there is not," Boston Archbishop O’Malley said, as he unveiled the full list of closings in May.
Many critics have suggested the closings were linked to the widespread clergy sexual abuse scandal that cost the archdiocese $85 million in compensation costs alone last year.
However, O’Malley and others at the Archdiocese’s central office said the closing parishes were selected on a number of factors, including high amounts of church debt, aging and limited number of priests, broken down cathedrals and lack of parishioners.
St. Albert’s parishioners challenged O’Malley's claims, saying the church does not fit into these categories: St. Albert’s has more than 1,600 families, its mortgage is paid off and its buildings have all been renovated.
When asked specifically about St. Albert’s, Boston officials said the parish was closed because it did not have a school and has one of the smallest church buildings among the Weymouth parishes.
Those partaking in the sit-in said they are willing to risk arrest to keep their church doors open. A group of parishioners also filed a lawsuit last week, challenging the archdiocese’s decision to close the church; parishioners say the church, along with the church buildings, belong to the church members and not church officials. A court hearing is scheduled for Sept. 8.
Meanwhile, on the part of the Archdiocese, a spokesperson said St. Albert’s doors would remain open as long as it is occupied; a locksmith was scheduled to change the locks and bolt the chapel doors by mid-day Wednesday.
"We don't have any plan right now other than to be patient," said the Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for Archbishop Sean O'Malley. "We're certainly not going to do anything to escalate the situation. As time goes on, we hope to reach a resolution."