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Vatican rejects appeal of Lowell parish closure

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BRIGHTON -- The Apostolic Signature, the Catholic Church’s supreme court, has rejected an appeal of the suppression of St. Jeanne d’Arc Parish in Lowell, the Archdiocese of Boston confirmed Feb. 27.

In 2006, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy denied the appeals of St. Jeanne and about a dozen other former parishes that were closed in the process of archdiocesan reconfiguration. Representatives from 10 other parishes still have pending appeals to the Apostolic Signature, said Kathleen Heck, special assistant to the moderator of the curia.

Heck said the archdiocese received the St. Jeanne ruling in Latin and the translation to English was completed Feb. 26.

“We have received a decree from the Apostolic Signature informing us that they did not accept the appeal,” she said. “They are not accepting it to be considered before the full college of the Apostolic Signature.”

Heck added that it may be possible for representatives of the former parish to ask that their appeal be considered again.

“They have written a very careful decree on every single point raised,” she continued. “It shows they have carefully reviewed this particular petition, this particular recourse, and their decision has been rendered on this particular recourse in detail.”

Heck stressed that the ruling is limited to the appeal of St. Jeanne d’Arc, not a precedent for the other pending appeals.

“It pertains specifically only to St. Jeanne d’Arc,” she said. “Each case is unique.”

Heck added that Lawrence and Lowell went through a different process of reconfiguration than the rest of the cities and towns in the archdiocese. They began meeting to reduce the number of parishes before other areas and made their recommendations last. Additionally, the case of St. Jeanne is different because it was a national parish serving French-speaking people.

Parish reconfiguration began in January of 2004, and St. Jeanne, a French personal parish, was suppressed in April. Soon after, Joe Clermont, a lawyer and former parishioner, asked Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley to reconsider the decision on behalf of other former parishioners.

Brother James Peterson, assistant to the moderator of the curia for canonical affairs, said that the cardinal did not grant the request.

“After careful consideration and attempting to address their concerns, the cardinal upheld his decree and decision to suppress the parish,” he said.

Next, Clermont appealed to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, which in 2006 upheld the cardinal’s ruling. Clermont then appealed the decision of the congregation to the Apostolic Signature.

The most recent ruling shows that Cardinal O’Malley followed Canon Law during the reconfiguration process, Brother James added.

Ten appeals to the Apostolic Signature remain -- Infant Jesus-St. Lawrence in Brookline, Our Lady of Lourdes in Revere, Sacred Heart in Natick, Sacred Heart in the North End, St. Anselm in Sudbury, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Scituate, St. James the Great in Wellesley, St. Jeremiah in Framingham, St. Mary Star of the Sea in the Squantum section of Quincy and St. Michael in Lynn.

Three of those churches reopened in 2005 as worship sites of neighboring parishes. In addition, five parishes, including three that have pending appeals to the Vatican, remain in vigil.

Three parishes -- St. Augustine in South Boston, St. Alphonsus in Danvers and St. William in Dorchester -- withdrew their appeals. St. Ann in Marlborough did not pursue the appeal at the level of the Apostolic Signature and the appeal for Our Lady of Mercy in Belmont was “overtaken by a lapse of time,” Heck said.

Peter Borre, co-chair of the Council of Parishes, spoke on behalf of the lay organization formed to oppose the parish closing process. The council was “disappointed but not surprised,” he said.

“I was in Rome two months ago to take soundings. I came back with concern,” he said.

Spokesman for the archdiocese, Terrence C. Donilon, acknowledged in a Feb. 27 statement that reconfiguration was a painful process for many.

“Our commitment remains to heal and rebuild the archdiocese,” he said. “As has been the case on all of the parish appeals and decisions rendered at the Vatican, we respectfully await additional decisions, we continue to pray for a peaceful resolution to all of the civil and canonical appeals involving closed parishes and we remain committed to open and respectful dialogue with all people involved.”

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