Parishioners ‘Occupy’ Church Slated for Closure

Members of St. Anselm Church continue their round-the-clock vigil until the day slated for their church closure by the Boston diocese.
( [email protected] ) Sep 15, 2004 01:35 PM EDT

Wednesday, Sept. 15 is the day marked for the closure of St. Anselm Church in Sudbury. Yet, parishioners are still occupying the chapel as part of their round-the-clock vigil to challenge the Archdiocese’s decision to close down the church.

"We are all in this together. We are a close-knit Catholic community and we do not feel that this parish should be closing," said Georgia Voroterer, one of the in-church protestors.

Voroterer, along with several dozen parishioners, began the round-the-clock vigil last week, following the example of St. Albert’s Church in Weymouth where church members have been camping out for over 2 weeks.

Most of the protestors hope the vigil will spark “communication” with the Archdiocese of Boston; some, however, say they are not very optimistic.

"It is a form of protest, but no one is particularly optimistic," said parishioner Rich Hornor, of Framingham.

According to Homor, the church raised $5,000 to use as “charitable church activities” and “potentionally support a lawsuit similar to the one filed by St. Albert the Great of Weymouth parishioners against the archdiocese.”

Fiona Keating, another protesting parishioner, explained the “lack of compassion” in the Boston Archdiocese’s decision to shut down the church doors. St. Anselm is only one of the 82 churches slated for closure in the Archdiocese by the end of this year.

"They closed their doors, they didn't listen. It makes people rebel," said Keating. "No church has ever had an appeal listened to. Surely at least one of the 82 appeals must have been valid.”

According to Keating, about 20 to 30 percent of the parish – mostly older members who have been in the church for decades – will be leaving the Catholic Church entirely.

"The majority (leaving) are older Catholics. They cannot take it," Keating said. "It is very sad, faith needs be there to turn to when you are older."

One of the main reasons for the protest is the archdiocese’s decision to retire St. Anselm’s pastor entirely.

Keating explained that the parishioners’ attitudes may have been different if Rev. John Fitzpatrick had been transferred to one of the other local Catholic Churches that have not been slated for closure.

"The archdiocese has offered him no direction," Hornor said. Fitzpatrick is 70, and will retire once St. Anselm's officially closes.

Fitzpatrick allowed the parishioners to hold the vigil but declined to participate.

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

Despite the parishioners’ show of faith, however, chances of altering the fate of St. Anselm seem unlikely.

The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said it is not possible for O’Malley to visit all the churches scheduled to close this year. Coyne also characterized the vigil as 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]."

Archbishop Sean O’Malley himself said he is not moved by the parishioners’ vigils.

Said O’Malley: "They have expressed their opinion and their hearts -- that is to be expected. It doesn't surprise me or disturb me.”