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Vatican denies reconfiguration appeal

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BOSTON —The Archdiocese of Boston announced last week that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy has denied an appeal to reverse the closure of St. William Parish in Dorchester. It was the first decision handed down in the cases of 15 parishes that have appealed their closing to the Vatican dicastery.

St. William’s closed on Aug. 31, 2004 along with neighboring St. Margaret Parish in Dorchester. A new parish, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, was erected from the territory of both parishes. St. Margaret Church became the main worship site, and the new parish administers St. William School.

Some former parishioners of St. William’s had appealed its closing.

In August, the congregation issued a preliminary recommendation in the appeals of seven closed parishes questioning the sections of Canon Law invoked by the archdiocese in the process.

The vast majority of reconfiguration parish closings have been implemented through a process known in canon law as suppression. In the case of suppression, which is governed by Canon 123, a parish is legally dissolved and both the assets and the liabilities of the parish revert to the archdiocese.

Included in most decrees of suppression was a paragraph assigning the closing parish’s territory to a neighboring parish. By including that paragraph, the Vatican contended, the archdiocese inadvertently invoked Canon 122 which deals with the division of parishes.

According to that canon, a closed parish’s property and bank accounts —along with its liabilities —must be transferred to the receiving parish or parishes.

St. William’s differed from those parishes dealt with in the August advisory in that its assets had already been allocated to the new parish.

“The archbishop issued this decree [assigning the assets] in order to assist Blessed Mother Teresa Parish with a number of unexpected expenses incurred in their role as the welcoming parish, including expenses related to the parish school,”the archdiocese said in a statement.

Archbishop O’Malley said in August that the Vatican has not questioned his authority to close parishes or the methodology used to select those parishes.

“The archdiocese is pleased that the Congregation for the Clergy has affirmed the process the archbishop used for reconfiguration in the Archdiocese of Boston,”the statement added. “While there is disagreement over the canons used as they pertain to the assets of parishes closed under reconfiguration, in the case of St. William’s, the Congregation has ruled that the canonical issues were offset by the archbishop’s decree allocating St. William’s remaining assets to Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish.”

From the early stages of the reconfiguration process, the archdiocese has said that one of the primary uses of the assets of closed parishes will be to support those parishes that are unable to be self-sustaining, including many that serve the inner city or immigrant communities.

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