Second Boston Catholic Church Rejects Massive Closure

'''The end will be our choice, not the archdiocese. We're not done with the building yet. I don't feel that was our last service''
( [email protected] ) Sep 13, 2004 12:37 PM EDT

The standoff against the Boston Catholic Archdiocese began at yet another local parish in Boston, Sunday, Sept 12, 2004. The parishioners at St. Anselm followed the lead of the congregants at St. Albert the Great in becoming the second Catholic Congregation in the Archdiocese to begin a round-the-clock vigil in the church to prevent the chapel doors from closing.

''People are ready," Jack Ryan, a parish finance commission member, declared at the conclusion of the 2-hour Mass conducted at St. Anselm yesterday. ''We will keep vigil until justice is done, until this wrong is made right. Let the vigil begin. God bless us all."

Members at St. Anslem, like some 80 other churches in the Archdiocese, was chosen to be closed as part of the largest massive church closures in U.S. Catholic history. While some churches readily gave in, others, like St. Albert's, rebelled.

Parishioners at St. Albert's began a round-the-clock vigil and lock-in at thier chapel in Weymouth, Massachusetts, two weeks ago. Parishioners say St. Albert's belongs to the members who built the church; officials say the church belongs to the Boston Archdiocese. Last week, 150 congregants loaded onto three buses and took thier case to court, challenging the decision of the Archdiocese.

While members at St. Anselm said they will remain in thier small church "as long as it takes" to reverse the archdiocese's decision, they said they will wait out on going to court until St. Albert's case's verdict comes in.

''The end will be our choice, not the archdiocese," said Fiona Keating of Sudbury, a preschool teacher with three children, who plans to take part in the vigil. ''We're not done with the building yet. I don't feel that was our last service."

Parishioners plan to say the rosary and hold prayer services daily in their "spiritual protest."

Meanwhile, the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, the Archdiocese has no intention of changing thier decision to close St. Anselm, and called the vigil a ''confrontational act" and an ''occupation."

''It's a matter of coercion," Coyne said. ''It prolongs the closing process. . . . You just don't need two Catholic churches in Sudbury, and that one is by far smaller than the other one [Our Lady of Fatima]."

The plans for the massive church closures began last year, with the Archdiocese announcing its intention of shutting down dozens of parishes. The names of those parishes were released earlier this year; sixteen of the eighty-two "slated" churches have already been closed.

During the announcement, the Archdiocese offered a three-fold reason for the closures: more than 30% of the churches are currently in debt; the diocese is operating “in the red” with more than 130 priests aged over 70; many of the cathedrals have become dilapidated.

The Archbishop of Boston, Sean O'Malley, also explained that the sale of the parish buildings will help the archdiocese finance its remaining churches and schools and replenish its pension and medical funds.

However, parishioners at St. Anselm said their church does not fit into the description, and explained that their church could be used as a "model of how parishes can survive in an era of shifting congregations and declining number of priests." According to the members at St. Anselm, parishioners have taken a more-active role to help the part-time pastor assigned by the Archdiocese, and the church is financially stable with a bank account totaling more than $500,000.

St. Anselm's pastor, the Rev. John Fitzpatrick, has also lead the church in creating a regional program for the deaf; deaf services are held twice a month in sign language.

''People here at St. Anselm were very generous and open-minded," Ruth Collari said through an interpreter. She has been running community socials for the deaf program for 24 years. ''More and more people have been coming to our socials here. We don't want to go."

Some of the hearing-impaired parishioners also intend to take part in the vigil.

Fitzpatrick said he has given parishioners his blessing to hold the vigil, but will not participate.

''Do I believe they will stop what's going to happen? No," said Fitzpatrick, who is retiring. ''I'm pretty cynical about that, but they have to do what they need to do."

Meanwhile, Colin Riley, a spokesman for St. Albert's parishioners, applauded the decision by St. Anselm's parishioners to hold a vigi.

''We wish them all the best," Riley said. ''The process to close vibrant churches is a sin."