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Diocese, Vigilers Appeal Ruling on St. Stan's

Staff Reports

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 Diocese of Allentown, Pa., had indicated it was appealing the same ruling on nine churches it shuttered in 2008. However, the diocese dropped its appeal and the fate of those churches remains unresolved.

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.

Tags: Apostolic Signatura, Congregation of Clergy, ruling, appeal      

Boston Setback Doesn't Shake Vigilers' Faith

Tammy Daniels

Vigilkeepers at St. Stan's were upbeat on Monday despite the bad news for 10 Boston churches. According to reports, the Vatican's highest court, the Apostolic Signatura, rejected appeals from parishioners to rescind the archdiocese's closure order for the churches, three of which have been occupied by vigils for more than five years.

"It's not going to change how we proceed," said Laurie Haas, one of the leaders in appealing the Adams church's closure last year. Vigilers at St. Stanislaus Kostka have been closely following the fates of the Boston churches and have aligned themselves with the Council of Parishes, a lay group fighting to keep them open. The group's leader, Peter Borre, has been counseling St. Stan's as it, too, wends its way through the Holy See's legal maze.

It was Borre who alerted press Monday to the Collegium's decision, which was actually been handed down on May 7. Within a half-hour, chuckled Haas, Msgr. John Bonzagni had e-mailed it to her inbox.

Visitors from across the country and even from overseas have stopped in to look at St. Stan's treasures.

Bonzagni, director of pastoral planning for the Springfield Diocese, had a hand in the decisions that would close numerous churches and consolidate parishes across Western Mass two years ago. Of the six churches shuttered in North Berkshire, only the Polish church has refused to close and join Notre Dame at the former St. Thomas' Church, now known as Pope John Paul the Great.

It was day 508 as some 50-odd supporters, about a quarter of the total number of vigilers taking turns standing post, attended the regular Monday meeting — and to hear if what the news out of Boston would mean.

"So this is very sad for Boston and, of course, we can't help but parallel their plight to our plight, here now," said Haas, after reading both an AP article and a statement from the Council of Parishes. "We're firm and we're resolute and we set the course ... things could be very different: their outcome is not our outcome."

But there's undercurrent of anger below the sunny smiles that their beloved St. Stan's and other parishes are paying the price for church leaders' failings and for sex-abuse scandals that have cost tens of millions.

The bust of Pope John Paul II is in storage after vandals tried to pull him from his pedestal last week and should be back after some minor fixes.

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