ADAMS, Mass. — The Diocese of Springfield is seeking clarification on Vatican decisions related to the closing of St. Stanislaus' Kostka Church in Adams and St. George's and St. Patrick's churches in Chicopee.
In a statement released Wednesday, the diocese says, "In the case of these three churches the Congregation [of Clergy] seems to be undertaking a new application of Church law." Diocesan officials point to similar reasonings provided for the closing of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Chicopee, which the Congregation upheld.
Parishioners appealing closure of St. Stan's two years ago and their canonical legal advisers believe the decree received on Tuesday means the diocese must reopen the church as a place of Catholic worship. The Chicopee churches say the same.
The decree from the Congregation of Clergy upholds the suppression of St. Stan's parish and its merger with the two other parishes in Adams but rejects the reasoning behind its closure. The diocese, it states, failed to provide the "grave motivations" for its closing.
As it stands now, the use of the three churches is up to Bishop Timothy A. McDonnel. "It has to be stressed that in each instance the parish itself is not being reestablished and that any permitted use of the building will not be the same as when it was a parish church," according to the statement.
Statement of the Diocese of Springfield
The Diocese of Springfield has now received official notification on five appeals which were under consideration by the Congregation for the Clergy. These decisions involve St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Adams; Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Chicopee; St. George Parish, Chicopee; St. Patrick Parish, Chicopee; and Our Lady of Hope Parish, Springfield.
In the matter of Our Lady of Hope Parish, Springfield, the Congregation has upheld the decision by Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell to amalgamate that parish into the new Mary, Mother of Hope Parish also in Springfield.
In the matter of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, Chicopee, the Congregation has upheld the decision by Bishop McDonnell both to amalgamate that parish into the Holy Name of Jesus Parish, Chicopee and allowed its closing as a place of worship. It should be noted that subsequently the Bishop has allowed the Assumption Church to re-open temporarily while structural concerns at nearby Holy Name of Jesus Church are investigated. It is currently open as the place of worship for Holy Name of Jesus Parish.
In the matters of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Adams; St. George Parish, Chicopee; and St. Patrick Parish, Chicopee the Congregation has upheld the decision by Bishop McDonnell to amalgamate those parishes, St. Stanislaus into Pope John Paul the Great Parish and both St. George and St. Patrick into the Holy Name of Jesus Parish, Chicopee. In these three instances, however, the Congregation has indicated that, in its judgment, sufficiently grave reason was not provided to close each of these church buildings and that they should be used in some manner as determined by the Bishop. It has to be stressed that in each instance the parish itself is not being reestablished and that any permitted use of the building will not be the same as when it was a parish church.
In the case of these three churches the Congregation seems to be undertaking a new application of Church law. For example it should be noted the circumstances in these three cases was consistent with the diocesan reasoning in the case of the Assumption Church for which the Congregation did uphold closure of the Church. Because of these factors the Bishop is seeking immediate clarification from the Vatican as well as through canon lawyers.
The diocese has also received a request for additional information from the Congregation, but no decision, regarding an appeal by former parishioners at St. Mary Parish in Northampton.
Finally, late yesterday the Prefect for the Congregation for the Clergy, Mauro Cardinal Piacenza, issued an apology to Bishop McDonnell for having failed to provide the diocese with these decisions in advance of their public release.
Even as parishioners celebrate news that the church may reopen, a bulletin board reminds them that the vigil is not over.
Laurie Haas reads the letter sent to the bishop along with the decree.
ADAMS, Mass. — St. Stanislaus Kostka Church is part of an "historic moment" in receiving one of several decrees from the Vatican so far that seem to open new avenues for closed churches.
Parishioners who have mounted a round-the-clock vigil were jubilant over the decision that rejected the Springfield Diocese's reasoning for closing the 100-year-old Polish place of worship. This, they say, means the church must be reopened as "a Catholic place of worship."
"This is a historic moment in the Catholic Church," said spokeswoman Laurie Haas after reading the letters sent to the diocese and the media and an English translation of the ruling from the Congregation of Clergy to the some 70-odd supporters seated in the pews. "We understand that a decree such as ours has only been issued in two other dioceses in the United States."
(Update: Similar decrees were sent to dioceses in Pennsylvania and Buffalo, N.Y., as well as to two other churches in the Springfield Diocese —St. George's and St. Patrick's, both in Chicopee.)
The ruling does not spell out what role the church may play in the parish — or whether the diocese can offer a better rationale to close it. "It's up to the bishop what happens next," said Haas.
"Depending on what occurs during this critical time will determine whether we go on to the next level to the Apostolic Signatura, the supreme court, which would perpetuate the whole matter," she continued. "I would hope to God the bishop does not want to do that."
Mark Dupont, spokesman for the Diocese of Springfield, said diocesan officials were reviewing the decree and had no comment at this time.
Francis Hajdas of the Friends of St. Stanislaus said the two-year vigil will continue.
"This is just a temporary thing until we get the official word," Hajdas warned the audience. "Come here at the usual time you signed up for. We'll let you know when it's all over."
The Friends have been leading a vigil that now numbers 200 participants to prevent the diocese from locking the doors and stripping the sacred relics from the Gothic church. They appealed the decision to merge the parish with nearby Notre Dame and St. Thomas and close St. Stan's, saying the Polish church was fiscally, physically and historically more suited as the parish church.
The Vatican decree, dated Jan. 25, reviews two separate issues: the suppression of the parish and its merger as the Parish of Pope John Paul the Great and the actual closing of the parish building as a house of worship.
The Rev. Seraphim Michalenko of the Marian Helpers led a prayer. For more information on the significant links between St. Stan's and the Marians, there is an excellent article here.
The Congregation of Clergy upholds Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell's suppression of the parish in 2008 as part of broad consolidation of numerous parishes throughout the Western Mass. diocese.
It found some technical problems with the closing (still rejecting the appeal de procedendo, or on procedure). But, more importantly, upheld the appeal on the facts (de decernendo) that the "grave motivations" for the closing were not provided.
Haas said the group and its canonical legal advisers believe this means the church should be reopened as a place of worship in some form.
Henry "Hank " Tomkowicz described the ruling as "80 percent" good because of the ambiguity of the language, the rejection of the parish appeal and the uncertainty of the bishop's response. "Hopefully, he's with us."
The Friends hope to have dialogue with the bishop on how the church can be used. While they would prefer once again attaining the status as a parish, Haas said they would be open for use as a shrine, "if it was a shrine that wasn't 6 a.m. Mass on a Monday morning, yeah, probably."
It was important, she said, that the legacy of the church continues. The working-class Polish immigrants who laid the cornerstone and their descendants have poured money and prayer into the building, which boasts such unique features as a stained-glass window with Lenin and being the first in the Western Hemisphere to have an image of The Divine Mercy enshrined within it.
It was fitting then, that the Rev. Seraphim Michaelanko of Adams, director of the Association of Marian Helpers in Stockbridge and an expert on The Divine Mercy, arrived to lead the parishioners in prayer.
But even as they prayed, and chanted "A hundred more years" in Polish, the vigilers were prepared to stick it out to the end.
"They're ready to go on for five more years if they had to because they love this church and some things are worth fighting for," said Haas.
ADAMS, Mass. — The vigilers of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church have been rewarded for the waiting and praying they have done for more than two years to save their church.
A decree from the Congregation of the Clergy in Rome has rejected the closing of the church.
A statement from Friends of St. Stan's spokeswoman Laurie Haas says "the Congregation's decision affirms the Diocesan decree relating to suppression and merger of St. Stan's Parish, but overturns the decree that resulted in the canonical closing of our church. As a result, St. Stan's must be reopened as a place of Catholic divine worship."
The vigilers will address the decision at 2 p.m. today at the church on the corner of Hoosac and North Summer streets.
The statement and four-page decree can be found below.
The historically Polish church was slated for closure during a sweeping consolidation of churches in the Diocese of Springfield to contend with falling attendance and increasing costs. Parishioners say they were caught off guard by the announcement because they had been under the impression St. Stan's was the most fiscally and faithfully healthy.
The day after Christmas in 2008, the Friends of St. Stan's entered the church and refused to leave. More than 200 people have participated in the round-the-clock vigil, some for an hour here or there, others spending night after night in the sanctuary through the seasons.
The group joined with churches in Boston also appealing their closure after the sex abuse scandal rocked the diocese – and led to multimillion-dollar settlements. The Boston group hasn't fared well; the Vatican rejected their pleas at the end of last year after a seven-year wait. The Boston parishes are trying a last-ditch effort to prevent the archdiocese from declaring the churches available for nonreligious use.
The Friends of St. Stanislaus have been represented by a canon advocate in Rome, who, on July 10, 2009, submitted an extensive legal brief to the Congregation of the Clergy on behalf of the parishioners summarizing the facts of the case and canon law issues: particularly the procedure followed by Bishop Timothy McDonnell, the legitimacy of the parish suppression and church closure followed within the Presbyteral Council of the Diocese of Springfield. All appeal documents can be viewed at adamscatholics.org.
The vigilers have been buoyed by recent "split" decisions of the Congregation of Clergy that seemed to indicate a diocese could consolidate parishes – but not close certain churches without grave reason. That could mean the building would remain as a site of worship, dependent upon the parishioners.
The last week may have been the hardest in the two-year wait, knowing a decision had been made by the Congregation of the Clergy in Rome and was on the way.