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Vatican rules 3 Mass. churches could close

By Rodrique Ngowi
Associated Press / November 10, 2011

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BOSTON—The Vatican's highest court has upheld the decision of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield to close three western Massachusetts parishes, including one that's been occupied by worshippers protesting its closure since December 2008, the diocese announced Friday.

The Apostolic Signatura, however, found that Springfield's Bishop Timothy McDonnell did not provide sufficient reasons to justify downgrading the churches to secular buildings, which is required before St. Stanislaus Kostka church in Adams and two Chicopee churches, St. Patrick and St. George, could be sold.

Still, the Vatican findings do not require the diocese to reopen the three church buildings and did not direct officials to restore them as regular worship sites since the parishes they were assigned to no longer exist, Dupont said.

Diocese canon lawyers and other officials are studying various options, including the possibility of issuing another decree providing sufficient justification to deconsecrate the churches, the diocese said in a statement.

"The concern of the diocese remains with regard to the resources needed to keep these and other facilities open," according to the statement. "Even limited use might pose a tremendous financial strain on the successor parishes."

The court's findings reflect the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy rulings, dated in late January, said Peter Borre of the Council of Parishes, a group formed to fight church closings.

"What is new is the die-hard attitude of the diocese of Springfield -- signaling that they will continue their illogical policy of passive resistance, because the Vatican `does not require that these church buildings be reopened,'" Borre said in an emailed statement. "What is the logic of Catholic churches that are locked and CLOSED to Catholic worship?"

In recent years, Roman Catholic dioceses around the country have closed dozens of parishes, citing falling attendance, a lack of priests and financial strain. In Boston, for instance, five churches have been occupied since a broad reconfiguration began in 2004 and reduced the number of parishes from 357 to 291 today.

The Vatican has recently rejected attempts by other dioceses to shut down the church buildings at closed parishes and convert them to secular use so they can be sold. In May, Bishop John Barres in Allentown, Pa., decided to stop challenging the Vatican on the fate of six closed churches in his diocese, but said the churches would remain shuttered.

In May, the Vatican ruled that a suburban Syracuse, N.Y., church cannot be deconsecrated, meaning it must remain a Catholic worship site, setting the stage for parishioners of St. Mary's Church in Jamesville to see if they can work out details with diocesan officials to reopen the building.

"The Springfield parishioner groups will review the Signatura decision when available to them, and decide upon their next steps," Borre said. "The battle continues."

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Rodrique Ngowi can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/ngowi