By: David A. Smith
[Continued from yesterday’s Part 1.]
As learning is never-ending, and faith may always be challenged, our catechism of the deconsecration, closure, and eventual sale of St. Frances X. Cabrini in Scituate has only just begun, and we begin, as they did, with the vigil the parishioners undertook:
4. How did the vigil begin?
Before the fall: Cardinal Law presiding in church
Cardinal O’Malley had been appointed to replace Bernard Cardinal Law, who had been beloved until the scandal broke, when “he had literally stood before the Archdiocese and lied through his teeth” said Globe reporter Michael Rezendes. Though removed from the Boston posting, he was recalled to Rome, given a protected job, and still lives there today.
Inside the bosom of the church, but far outside the public eye:
Bernard Cardinal Law in Rome, 2014
Cardinal O’Malley, who in 1992 had been sent to the Diocese of Fall River to settle other sexual-abuse lawsuits, was rotated into Boston in his place to settle the Boston lawsuits and to calm the roiling waters.
Stick your hand in there and settle those lawsuits
Sources used in this post
Boston Globe, May 24, 2004; cardinal red font
Boston Globe, January 9, 2011: azure font
Boston Globe, March 20, 2015; seaweed font
Portland Press-Herald, May 27, 2015; midnight font
Boston Herald, May 16, 2016; black font
New York Times, May 30, 2016; gray-blue font
Quincy Patriot-Ledger editorial, May 27, 2016; burnt umber font
Quincy Patriot-Ledger, May 31, 2016; olive font
Friends of St. Frances X. Cabrini web site (accessed October 15, 2016); lavender font
Please forgive my church
But the rally outside the cathedral suggested that many people will not quietly accept O’Malley’s decisions. Some of the demonstrators held signs with slogans such as “Enough is Enough — No More Pain,” “Suppress clericalism, not parishes,” and “We built St. William’s — Keep it Open.” Others held signs critical of the church hierarchy for its handling of the sexual abuse crisis.
“We have again lost our faith in our archdiocesan leaders,” said Sharon Harrington, a parishioner at St. Albert the Great in Weymouth, which is expected to close. “We are very upset because we believe that this process was flawed and unfair. There was no uniform criteria to be applied.”
Such sentiments were common among Boston-area Catholics, which may have given them moral license to repudiate the Archdiocese’s decision:
After arriving on Oct. 26, 2004, to find that all but one of the doors had been locked, St. Frances parishioners decided not to leave the church. Thus began their vigil.
After all, possession is nine-tenths of the law – or at least 11½ years’ worth of the law.
Occupied as Alcatraz was occupied: F. X. Cabrini from the air
5. Why did the parishioners mount their vigil?
“I think the Archdiocese of Boston has basically fallen down on its responsibilities.” Jon Rogers.
Although I would be one of the last to defend the Archdiocese here, even if that is true, by itself it’s no grounds to seize another’s property. From the start, therefore, the right to vigil was fought on grounds of curious legalisms.
“The way the sex abuse scandal was handled pretty clearly shattered the trust that a lot of people had in the hierarchy,” said James O’Toole, a professor of history at Boston College [Specializing in the history of American Catholicism, the history of religious practice, and popular devotional life – Ed.], who added that the vigil had most likely also been motivated by the writings of the Second Vatican Council, in the 1960s, which expanded the role of laypeople in the church.
O’Toole figures that if the church says something metaphorically for half a century, people start to believe it literally
“It turns out that if you tell the people for fifty years that they are the church, they start to believe it and they start to act on it, and think they have the authority in a way to argue with the hierarchy,” Mr. O’Toole said.
Whatever their justifiable moral anger over the church’s sex-abuse scandals, I think the parishioners were shrewd enough to know they had to have a claim, either in canon law or in secular Massachusetts law.
“Our whole lives, we’ve been told we own these churches, and that’s absolutely untrue,” Rogers said. “It was, ‘Your church needs a new roof’ and ‘Your church needs a new boiler.’”
In the manner of network information transmission, it was easy for parishioners to evolve a common lexicon of protest.
With their vigil, the parishioners tapped into a deep well of mistrust after the Archdiocese, rocked by a sexual abuse scandal, moved to close dozens of parishes in 2004 — citing a decline in priests and congregants.
Credit M. Scott Brauer for The New York Times
As Cardinal O’Malley continued his multi-year apologia tour, little by little the other parishes came back into the fold.
[In 2004], eight other churches started vigils over their own closures, but St. Frances had the last remaining one. “This community has tested the Vatican canonical system and the U.S. legal system to their highest level,” Peter Borre, a lawyer [Based in Boston – Ed.] who has supported closed churches, said to the congregation on Sunday. “Nobody else has done this.”
Supporting the Cabrini parishioners as high as he could go: Peter Borre
6. With so many churches in the Archdiocese, why did the Archdiocese select Cabrini for closing?
The Archdiocese never gave a specific reason for closing each church; instead, it used an opaque and secretive process of deliberations:
St. Frances was among dozens of Boston-area churches pegged for closure in 2004 –
The passive voice, normally the scourge of copyeditors everywhere, is here appropriate, for not only is the Web site opaque as to who is in charge of what (if I had to guess, I would look at the Archdiocese Financial Council, whose current members are listed here, though the relevant list would be those members as of 2004), no one individual ever came forward from the Archdiocese to say, “I did it, I decided this thing, if you are angry, you may be angry with me.”
Types of resistors
Those who seek to bar the owner from exercising its rights
Over what is built on the property
‘Historic preservationists’: May 11, 2009, Shooting a white elephant 3 parts: Mountain View, CA. Opposing Steve Jobs’ right to tear down his house, which he did in 2001, and whose remnants have been collected for future display.
‘Conservation advocates’: November 18, 2014, Whose woods these are?, 6 parts: Belmont, MA. Blocking a developer from building housing on a wooded parcel
‘Anti-closure occupiers’: March 7, 2013: Cannot we consecrate? 2 parts. Scituate, MA. Occupying a deconsecrated catholic church (St. Frances X. Cabrini) scheduled for sale by the Archdiocese of Boston.
‘Political squatters’: December 8, 2011. Boston, MA, and the Occupy movement anti’s. (To this day I don’t know what they were for, just what they were against.)
Much of the twenty-first century political backlash in Western democracies (Greece, the UK, France, the US, to name a few) arises, I think, from people’s individual anger against the administrative blob that somehow has inverted the notion of public service and usurped authority to decide what cheese is permissible, what may be written on a wedding cake, who may use which bathroom, and who must be allowed to enter the country.
– as part of a reconfiguration plan intended to shrink the Archdiocese’s growing debt.
While the reasons for private meetings about closure are self-evident – to open them would have invited diocesan chaos – closed proceedings were terrible optics and even worse parishioner-reconciliation policy, for the approach boiled down to Trust us to do the right thing to which every rational Boston parishioner could easily ask, Why now, when for decades you’ve been betraying our trust and lying to us?
As the Archdiocese has declined to say, on its behalf I’ll use Occam’s Razor to hypothesize an answer:
And the simplest explanation is M-O-N-E-Y
Business economics and land-use economics
Really, it’s self-evident. Overall Catholic Church costs of the scandal top $4 billion. The Boston Archdiocese (the fourth largest Catholic Archdiocese in America, with 1,800,000 Catholics paid out at least $85 million), probably much more (the church published some information and people stopped pursuing the tally), so there were big bills to pay:
The Archdiocese, meanwhile, was left to argue necessity, the necessity of downsizing, of running parishes with fewer priests, of dealing with fewer people in the pews.
And even without the bills, to keep a sparsely-attended church open has meaningful cost (February 27, 2008):
But in Boston, where the Archdiocese says it is spending $880,000 a year to maintain the closed but contested parishes, church officials are still striking a conciliatory tone.
St. Frances X. Cabrini had a tiny congregation. It’s within ten minutes, possibly five, of two other South Shore Catholic Churches. It sits on prime land (30 acres, less than five acres of which were used for the church and its parking/ grounds) ripe for residential development.
Thirty acres total, of which no more than five are developed into rectory, church, and parking lot
In any reasonable triage analysis, St. Frances X. Cabrini would be among the first to go: low downside, low relocation costs, and high realizable value.
AHI posts on mandatory demolition in Marblehead
September 16, 2010, Zoning high noon, 2 parts: Marblehead, MA. A builder refusing to accept that his illegally builtse at 74 Bubier Road has to be moved, trimmed, or demolished.
September 22, 2011, High noon (again?), Marblehead, MA, the same builder cheating the bulldozer for another year.
March 13, 2012, Death comes for the arch-builder, 2 parts, Marblehead, MA, the house at 74 Bubier Road is finally demolished.
[Continued tomorrow in Part 3.]