Boston Catholics Protest Shutdowns of 7 Parishes

The archdiocese of Boston has closed 62 parishes in the past year, citing a shift in population, a declining number of priests and financial problems. The majority of churches have closed without incident, but worshippers at seven parishes are holding round-the-clock protest vigils and refusing to allow the church doors to close. Monica Brady-Myerov of member station WBUR in Boston reports on the controversy.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

In the past year, the Archdiocese of Boston has closed 62 parishes because of a shift in population, the declining number of priests, and major financial problems. Most parishes have closed without incident, but seven have refused to shut their doors. There have been round-the-clock vigils to stop the closures. Those protests are still going on even at parishes the archdiocese has now promised to keep open. Monica Brady-Myerov of member station WBUR in Boston reports.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV reporting:

Parishioners have literally been sleeping in the pews to keep their churches open. Last August, St. Albert the Great in Weymouth was the first church to start a protest vigil. In March, the archdiocese reversed St. Albert's closure, but parishioners haven't moved out of the church.

Mr. COLIN RILEY (Parishioner, St. Albert the Great): We want to make sure that our parish becomes fully functioning as it promised.

BRADY-MYEROV: Colin Riley, a St. Albert's parishioner, explains why he and his family are still sleeping at the church.

Mr. RILEY: We want our programs restored. We want to make sure that our pastor is situated in the rectory and that we are as we were before we were suppressed.

BRADY-MYEROV: Parishioners plan to end their vigil tomorrow when the priest moves in. Their suspicions are based on what the archdiocese has done in parishes like St. Bernard's in Newton.

Mr. RICH ASSERA(ph) (Parishioner, St. Bernard's): We feel completely, completely betrayed.

BRADY-MYEROV: St. Bernard's parishioner Rich Assera says his parish ended its vigil in December because the archbishop promised to reopen the church. But Assera says the parish remains crippled.

Mr. ASSERA: We're far from full-functioning. We have half our Masses. Our CCD classes are not intact. We have 326 children that are in a state of limbo. And we have less Masses. We had Masses Monday through Friday--we only have them Thursday and Friday. Weekend Masses--that's been cut in half.

BRADY-MYEROV: One church in vigil was told it would reopen as a chapel, but Bill Bannon of St. Anselm in Sudbury says that's confusing.

Mr. BILL BANNON (Parishioner, St. Anselm): And it's very unclear as to what it means.

BRADY-MYEROV: Even if it's not that clear, why not pack up the sleeping bags and go home?

Mr. BANNON: Well, once again, we're not sure.

BRADY-MYEROV: About what?

Mr. BANNON: What the archdiocese is going to do. So we're maintaining the vigil until there's some clarity.

BRADY-MYEROV: The continuing vigils show there's still a high level of mistrust of the archdiocese. Archbishop Sean O'Malley wants to address this, according to his spokesman, Terrence Donilon.

Mr. TERRENCE DONILON (Spokesperson for Archbishop Sean O'Malley): And I think he certainly is concerned when anybody is, you know, in disagreement with their church, and he understands the level of frustration. That's why I think he's worked so hard to demonstrate an openness and a willingness to reconsider many of the decisions.

BRADY-MYEROV: Donilon says the archbishop hopes all the prayer vigils will conclude peacefully. In what appears to be an effort to avert more church takeovers, the archdiocese recently postponed closing dates or reversed closing orders for several parishes where vigils were planned. At the same time, both sides are becoming more aggressive. The archdiocese recently locked children and teachers out of a parochial school it feared was about to be taken over by parents. And parishioners have also been arrested and charged with trespassing for trying to start a vigil. Jackie Lemmerhirt says St. Jeremiah in Framingham had a strategy to deal with such tactics.

Ms. JACKIE LEMMERHIRT (Parishioner, St. Jeremiah): So the day that we went into vigil, we notified the archdiocese that if they or any of their staff had us arrested from the premises that we would sue them for lots of different reasons.

BRADY-MYEROV: The archdiocese says it only needs to close another dozen or so parishes, but Catholics who've occupied their churches in order to save them say the archdiocese may face more rebellions. For NPR News, I'm Monica Brady-Myerov in Boston.

BRAND: DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Madeleine Brand.

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