Vatican rejects parish closure appeals

BRIGHTON -- The Apostolic Signature, the Catholic Church’s supreme court, has rejected appeals of eight parish suppressions, the Archdiocese of Boston confirmed June 10.

The former parishes are: Infant Jesus-St. Lawrence in Brookline, Our Lady of Lourdes in Revere, 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.

A ninth appeal for St. Jeanne d’Arc Parish in Lowell was rejected by the Apostolic Signature in February. Representatives from all the former parishes will ask the court to reconsider their appeals, according to Brother James Peterson, assistant to the moderator of the curia for canonical affairs.

“There is one more level of appeal, and we have heard that all eight are appealing to the full college of judges at the Apostolic Signature,” Brother James said. Representatives from St. Jeanne d’Arc have previously announced their intention to appeal.

Peter Borre, co-chair of the Council of Parishes, a lay organization formed to oppose the parish closing process, stressed the closed parishes’ commitment to seeing the appeal process through.

“We intend to stay with this issue as long as we can,” he said.

Two other pending appeals -- one for Sacred Heart in Natick and the other for Sacred Heart in the North End -- have not yet received their first ruling from the court.

Kathleen Heck, special assistant to the moderator of the curia, said that the recent rulings do not necessarily indicate how the Vatican will rule on the remaining two appeals.

She added that throughout the process the Vatican has given the appeals “careful consideration” and so far has upheld the archdiocese’s decision to suppress those parishes.

“As painful as this has been for a lot of people, the process in Boston has been appropriate under Canon Law to achieve a necessary goal of a more sustainable group of parishes,” she said. “It gives us a moment to once again advocate for unity.”

Parish reconfiguration began in January of 2004, and parishioners of about a dozen suppressed parishes appealed the decision to close those churches to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, which in 2006 upheld the archdiocese’s decision. Then, the closed parish groups appealed the decision of the congregation to the Apostolic Signature.

Three of the churches that appealed to the Apostolic Signature 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.

Five parishes that appealed closure -- Our Lady of Mercy in Belmont, St. Ann in Marlborough, St. Augustine in South Boston, St. Alphonsus in Danvers and St. William in Dorchester -- never appealed at the level of the Apostolic Signature. Several others droppped their appeals even earlier in the process.

In a June 10 statement announcing the Apostolic Signature’s recent ruling, the Archdiocese of Boston acknowledged the difficulty parish suppression causes for faith communities.

“We recognize that the process of closing a parish and transitioning to a new setting is very challenging for all who are involved,” the statement said. “In the Archdiocese of Boston, as in many other places, the connection to our familiar place of worship can be very strong.”

The statement added, “Going forward, we continue to hope and pray that through productive dialogue and mutual respect we can work together to strengthen the Church, carry out the mission given us by Christ and be His witnesses in the world.”