Diocese, Vigilers Appeal Ruling on St. Stan's
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.
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Boston Setback Doesn't Shake Vigilers' Faith
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.
One sentence in particular in the Council of Parishes statement struck a chord. "American Catholics will not let up in their efforts to bring the American bishops to account, and to compel bishops to stop using parishes as ATMs to pay the pay the piper for clergy sex abuse" was met with loud murmurs of agreement.
In the meantime, the vigilers will continue to raise funds to maintain the beautifully decorated church, including a Polish dinner and dancing at PNA this Saturday with Eddie Forman's polka band. Admission $5; a Polish plate is available from 5 to 6 with dancing until 11.
They're also doing their best to keep the occupation in the diocese's eye. Last week, the local papers did a story on the 500th day of the vigil, the television stations show up now and again, and hats, T-shirts and, soon, buttons promoting St. Stan's are available. "We have to keep ourselves in the news so the bishop knows what's going on," said Fran Hajda.
They're in it for the long haul. It could be years before their case reaches the Signatura.
"Five years from now, when we are at that level, it could be a completely diffeent climate over at the Apostolic Signatura," said Haas. "We always have to have hope, we have to pray ... we're a people of faith, a family brought so much closer together."
The full statement of the Council of Parishes is below:
"Today in Rome the canon law advocate for nine parishioner appeal groups in the Archdiocese of Boston (RCAB) was notified by an official of the Holy See’s Apostolic Signatura (the Vatican’s supreme-court equivalent) that all nine appeals, plus a tenth appeal from another Boston parishioner group, were denied by the Signatura’s Collegium at its session of May 7.
The Collegium is the highest level of the Vatican’s canon law system for appeals against the suppression of parishes. A list of the ten RCAB parishioner groups is attached.
The Boston appeals are the result of the “Reconfiguration” program of parish closings announced in early 2004 in the RCAB, in the immediate aftermath of the clergy sex abuse scandal which was settled in late 2003 - with $85 million paid by the archdiocese for 541 claims. To fund this, in May of 2004 the RCAB identified 83 Boston-area parishes to be closed, almost one-fourth of all RCAB parishes then open. When announced, this was the most massive parish closing program in the history of Catholic America.
Although the archdiocese has claimed vociferously over the years that the parish closings of 2004-2005 had nothing to do with its clergy sex abuse settlement, in 2008 the RCAB’s own canon advocate in Rome filed a sworn brief with the Signatura, which includes the following remarkable passage (translated from the Latin):
“…maximum discretion was given to His Excellency the Archbishop of Boston so that he might save the entire archdiocese from monetary ruin, provoked by the ‘sexual abuse crisis’ [emphasis in original]. It is in this context that all actions of this process of reconfiguration and ‘closing of parishes’ are to be understood, not excluding the suppression of wealthy parishes, not excluding the suppression of parishes of maximum vitality…”
This is the revealed truth about the massive parish destruction program: parishes were closed, to liquidated as real estate to fund the sex abuse settlement. The contorted statements inflicted by the RCAB upon its parishioners over the past several years about the reasons for closing parishes (shortage of clergy, changing demographics, insolvent parishes) has turned out to be at variance with the truth – intentionally misleading.
The parishioner groups whose appeals have been denied, the RCAB Catholics who have been in vigil in five RCAB churches occupied round the clock for over five years, and 70 parishioner groups in 16 other dioceses who have followed closely the course of the Boston appeals, will now have to consider what steps to take next.
One thing is clear: American Catholics will not let up in their efforts to bring the American bishops to account, and to compel bishops to stop using parishes as ATMs to pay the piper for clergy sex abuse.
Since the scandal exploded in Boston more than eight years ago, at least $2.5 billion has been paid out by American bishops. And the process is not over: just last week, Vermont’s diocese of Montpelier settled 26 claims for almost $18 million.
St Augustine wrote, “Roma locuta est, causa finita est,” Rome has spoken, case closed. The good saint got this wrong: while one chapter has closed, another chapter is opening.
As allegations of clergy sex abuse work their way through many other countries with large Catholic populations, we will see a pattern very familiar to Boston’s Catholics:
First, blame the media, the victims, and perhaps a predecessor pope;
Next, toss a few bishops over the side;
Then, acknowledge the inevitable, grudgingly;
Avoid courts, depositions and document discovery;
After dragging out litigation, pay out enormous settlements;
After an interval, close local parishes but deny any link to settlements; and
Above all, deceive the parishioners about truth regarding the parish closings.
We are seven years away from the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses in 1517; what will the Roman Catholic Church look like in 2017?"
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