ADAMS, Mass. — The vigilers at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church have been handed a serious setback in their attempts to keep the historic Polish parish open.
According to a release from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, the Apostolic Signatura at the Vatican has upheld the decision to suppress and close the parishes of St. George and St. Patrick in Chicopee, and St. Stanislaus in Adams.
The vigilers, who recently passed the 1,000-day mark in their occupation of the closed church, had held out hope Rome would order the reopening of the church after finding it had been closed improperly. The diocese appealed that finding for clarification.
The statement received from diocese spokesman Mark Dupont, states "this is a definitive finding which supports the actions of the diocese thus removing any possibility for their restoration as parishes."
"In the same action, the Signatura did indicate that the diocese had not yet provided sufficient cause to reduce the churches in question to 'profane.'
"This secondary finding does not require that these church buildings be reopened, and clearly does not direct that they be restored as regular worship sites since the parishes they were assigned to no longer exist. This action simply means they cannot be actively used for any non-religious purpose. It allows for no use, or a wide range on other non-worship religious uses.
The finding of the Signatura will be carefully reviewed by diocesan canon lawyers and discussions will take place with each of the successor parishes and their legitimate consultative bodies as to their recommendations on proceeding.
The diocese intends to pursue this matter following the suggestions given by the Signatura and other options as provided in canon law.
"The concern of the diocese remains with regard to the resources needed to keep these and other facilities open. Even limited use might pose a tremendous financial strain on the successor parishes. Our future actions may include, using the clarification now provided by the Signatura, to restate through decree the need to reduce the status of these church buildings or alternative uses as permitted."
Diocese, Vigilers Appeal Ruling on St. Stan's
By: Staff Reports On: 09:41PM / Friday June 24, 2011
ADAMS, Mass. — The doors at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church aren't opening any time soon.
Vigilers there had hoped that a recent decision at the Vatican would force the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield to restore the church as a place of worship. The diocese, however, has appealed the Congregation of Clergy's ruling. The vigilers have been advised that they, too, should appeal to ensure their voice continues to be heard.
Laurie Haas, one of the leaders opposing the decision to close the church more than two years ago, wrote that the Friends of St. Stan's had twice contacted the diocese attempting reconciliation after the Congregation of Clergy appeared to overturn that decision in February.
"We wrote to Bishop Timothy McDonnell and offered to enter dialogue with him in an effort to agree upon a manner of implementing the decree and reopen St. Stan's in a way that would best serve the Catholic community of Adams, as well as the Diocese as a whole," Haas said in a statement. "Unfortunately, our plea for conciliation went unanswered."
St. Stan's Church was still filled with Christmas decorations in February when vigilers and supporters gathered to hear the good news about the Congregation of Clergy's ruling. Now that it has been appealed, it may be months before the church's fate is known.
The ruling by the Congregation of Clergy, which included other church closures, has proved confusing to the dioceses affected.
The decree, received in February, upholds the suppression of the parish and its merger but rejects the reasoning behind its closure, saying it should have continued in sacred use.
At the time, the diocese said the "Congregation [of Clergy] seems to be undertaking a new application of Church law" and said it would ask for clarification.
"After consultation with canon lawyers from both within and outside our diocese, we determined the need to seek this clarification through the continuation of this canonical process," said diocese spokesman Mark Dupont in an email on Friday. "It is important to note that the Vatican upheld our right to suppress the parish in all cases, which was the more significant finding."
Dupont wrote that the decrees were all based on the same applications of Church law, but resulted in different findings by the Congregation.
Haas said the vigilers, who have refused to vacate the historic Polish church since before Christmas 2008, were informed of the appeal on Friday.
In a letter sent to Haas by the Apostolic Signatura, the high court's representative states "Bishop McDonnell contends that the Congregation erred in judging that the serious reasons for his decision were not demonstrated in the documentation submitted to the Congregation."
The vigilers had hoped the ruling would pave the way if not for resurrecting the parish, at least for reopening the building as a shrine or other sacred use.
In her statement, Haas said their canonical counsel had advised they (technically Haas and six other signatories) appeal as well to ensure their participation. "Regrettably, therefore, the Diocese has left us no alternative but to file an appeal of our own."
Haas said the Friends of St. Stan's were disappointed but confident the Vatican's Supreme Tribunal will reopen the church.
"The future of St. Stanislaus Kostka is ultimately in the hands of Almighty God."
Updated on Saturday, June 25, 2011, at 7:34 p.m. with new information on the Allentown Diocese that was brought to our attention.
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.
Peter Borre advised St. Stan's parishioners on the Vatican appeals process.
BOSTON — The pope has rejected the pleas of parishes in the Boston Archdiocese to remain open.
According to several media sources, a Dec. 15 letter addressed to Peter Borre, chairman of the Council of Parishes, stated, "The Holy Father [Pope Benedict XVI] was apprised of the question, which was also clearly studied by this office. ... I regret to inform you, however, that His Holiness has decided not to accept your appeal."
Borre has been the leader in the effort to keep open Boston area churches closed in 2003 as part of a consolidation sparked by financial and demographic declines. The Council of Parishes, a collaboration of 16 parishes, has been supporting vigilers trying to keep open the churches. At present, five churches are still being occupied around the clock to prevent their closure.
The decision doesn't bode well for the vigilers at St. Stanislaus Kostka in Adams, who are entering their third year in trying to keep the historic Polish church from closing.
Borre, and the Council of Parishes, have been advising the St. Stan's vigilers — as well as trailblazing the twisted path through the Vatican appeals process. The Boston group was dealt a blow last spring when the Apostolic Signatura rejected its appeals.