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Pope declines an appeal of Mass. church closings

Parishioners vow to continue vigils

By Jay Lindsay
Associated Press / January 5, 2011

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Pope Benedict XVI has rejected an appeal from a group of Boston-area parishioners who asked him to reverse a seven-year-old decision to close their churches, some of which have been occupied in protest.

The pope’s ruling was relayed in a Dec. 15 letter to Peter Borre, head of the Council of Parishes, which sent the last-ditch appeal in October. Borre said he received the letter at his home Monday.

The letter, written by Archbishop Fernando Filoni, Vatican undersecretary of state, said that the pope was informed about the appeal and that Filoni’s office had carefully studied it.

“I regret, however, to inform you that His Holiness has decided not to accept your appeal,’’ Filoni wrote.

Filoni added, “He has likewise asked me to assure you of a remembrance in his prayers in these difficult times.’’

The appeal to the pope came after the Vatican’s highest court turned down in May the appeals of several churches closed by the Boston Archdiocese after it began a reconfiguration in 2004.

The appeal to Benedict decried the “veritable massacre’’ of parishes in the archdiocese and argued that a reversal of the closings would strengthen the church’s mission of evangelization.

Borre said the appeal was “in the full sense of the word, a Hail Mary.’’ He has said he does not expect the parishes to be restored as they were. But he said yesterday that he was heartened by Benedict’s attention and expression of sympathy, which he said might help as his group works to reopen the closed churches as Catholic places of worship, instead of full parishes.

Terrence Donilon, a spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese, said he sees “no possible way that the [parishes] would ever reopen in any form.’’

The archdiocese was struggling with financial problems, declining membership, and a priest shortage when it began its reconfiguration, which reduced the number of parishes from 357 to 291. Parishioners at several churches, though, refused to leave, saying their churches were healthy and being liquidated to pay the costs of settling with victims of the clergy sexual abuse scandal, a charge the archdiocese has adamantly denied.

Five parishes remain in vigil, some around the clock.