For second time, Vatican keeps parishes open

March 8, 2011

(RNS) For the second time in recent months, the Vatican has overruled a
U.S. bishop's decision to close churches in his diocese, a rare reversal
that Catholic activists hope heralds a new trend.


The Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy has ruled that the Diocese
of Allentown (Pa.) did not present "grave" reasons for shuttering nine
churches in 2008.


The Allentown ruling, which was first reported by The Associated
Press on Sunday (March 5), follows a similar decision made public last
month in Springfield, Mass.


In both cases, the Congregation for the Clergy ruled that the local
bishop could terminate parishes but should not close their church
buildings, said Charles Wilson of the St. Joseph Foundation in San
Antonio, which provides lay Catholics with guidance on canon law. Such
rulings are rare, Wilson added.


Allentown spokesman Matt Kerr told the AP, "The buildings, in some
cases, may have to be used for sacred purposes. What exactly that is,
we're trying to figure out."


Springfield Bishop Timothy McDonnell is asking the Vatican for
clarification of his ruling, saying the Congregation for the Clergy
"seems to be undertaking a new application of church law."


Peter Borre, a Boston activist who fights church closings, estimates
that 70 appeals from lay Catholics across at least 16 dioceses have been
filed with the Vatican in recent years.


An upcoming decision on an appeal from Cleveland Catholics will
test whether the Vatican has adopted a sweeping new policy, he said.


"If the Congregation for the Clergy rules for those Cleveland
churches, it's safe to conclude there's been a major policy shift in
Rome," Borre said.