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BRAINTREE -- Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley is requesting the input of former parishioners as he considers the fate of seven churches closed as part of the archdiocese's 2004 Parish Reconfiguration.
Cardinal O'Malley could decide to relegate the churches for "profane use," which would involve removing sacred objects and clear the way for sale or development of the buildings and related property.
The seven churches involved are: St. James the Great in Wellesley, St. Therese in Everett, St. Jeanne d'Arc in Lowell, Star of the Sea in Quincy, Our Lady of Lourdes in Revere, St. Frances X. Cabrini in Scituate and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in East Boston.
Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia Father Richard Erikson described the move as "the close of the process that began in 2004."
"The cardinal has instituted a culture of transparency that has resulted in greater consultation, collaboration and coordination," said Father Erikson. "Through this process we seek to provide an opportunity for the local Catholic community to comment in advance of a decision by Cardinal Seán. It is our hope that the feedback gathered during the consultation period will be informative and provide additional insight."
Father Erikson added that there is no predetermined outcome to the process and that cardinal will make the decision on each parish based on the "needs of the local community" and the "larger Church."
He added that the consultation process illustrates Cardinal O'Malley's commitment to transparency.
"To rebuild the Church we need to rebuild trust and engage the faithful at all levels to be active parts of the Catholic community," Father Erikson said.
The consultation period will last exactly one month, from Feb. 18 to March 18. Canon law does not require any consultation with parishioners, but Father Erikson said one month was deemed an appropriate time period.
He indicated that the archdiocese is currently in the consultative phase of the matter, and will proceed to a decision-making phase once the input is reviewed. He did not give a deadline by which Cardinal O'Malley will make his decision.
"We understand and respect what a treasure churches are in the life of a community," he said. "We want to make sure we hear directly and fully from those who have worshiped at the church throughout their lifetime."
He said all input must be received in writing. Comments can be received online at a special website, www.2011Consultation.org. Those who do not have Internet access can call 617-746-5669 to request a form via the mail. The form is also available for download at www.bostoncatholic.org/2011consultation.
Father Erikson added that all written input must conform to the parameters of the form.
He said survey forms were being used because it would allow information to be accessible and submitted in a "user-friendly" format.
Cardinal O'Malley is seeking specific input on a possible "relegation to profane use," according to Canon law, of these parish properties, which would include the church and all related buildings and land. Canon law says when a church building is relegated to profane use, the building is converted from religious use, the sacred items are removed and the building can "used in an appropriate and dignified manner."
Buildings could be sold or redeveloped for another non-religious use such as affordable housing.
The vicar general clarified that the question under consideration is only the future of the church buildings and property. The parishes, the entities in Canon Law that once owned the buildings, have been already been "suppressed," or dissolved, and the Vatican has upheld those decisions.
The proceeds from any sale would go to the archdiocese and the vicar general said they will be used to establish a fund that will service existing parishes.
Between 2003 and 2005, the archdiocese closed or merged 57 parishes citing dwindling Mass attendance, financial concerns and a clergy shortage. The churches belonging to many of those former parishes were also closed.
Since that time, parishioners of some of the closed parishes began to hold round-the-clock vigils to keep their churches open, and have waged appeal efforts with the archdiocese and the Vatican.
Of the churches currently being considered for relegation to profane use, four of them -- St. James in Wellesley, St. Therese in Everett, St. Francis X. Cabrini in Scituate and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in East Boston -- are still in vigil.
Father Erikson said the consultation should not be seen as the first step in ending the vigils.
In January, four parishes -- St. James, St. Francis X. Cabrini, Our Lady of Lourdes in Revere, St. Jeanne d'Arc in Lowell and Star of the Sea in Quincy -- vowed to wage a Vatican appeal challenging the archdiocese's right to relegate the churches to profane use. Earlier, the Vatican had denied an appeal challenging the right of the archdiocese to suppress the former parishes.
Recent Vatican rulings have come down on different sides of bishops' decisions to suppress or merge parishes and relegate churches for profane use.
Earlier this year, in the Diocese of Allentown, Pa., the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy upheld appeals from parishioners of seven closed parishes challenging the diocese's right to relegate the churches to profane use while agreeing with the diocese's decision merge the parishes into a new parish.
Just this week, the Congregation for the Clergy ruled that the Diocese of Springfield did not sufficiently justify closing three churches in Western Massachusetts -- St. Patrick and St. George in Chicopee and St. Stanislaus Kostka in Adams. However, the Vatican ruled that Bishop Timothy McDonnell followed proper procedures in suppressing the parishes.
Springfield Diocese spokesman Mark Dupont issued a statement Feb. 16 confirming receipt of the Vatican's ruling.
"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," Dupont said.
"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." he added.