QUAERITUR: toties quoties indulgence and church closings

From a reader:

Today, a priest friend of ours took us on a tour of the churches that will be closed.  Needless to say, the churches to be closed are the most beautiful churches in the diocese. 

I don’t know what I can do to stop the closings, but I’m willing to try.  Do you any ideas? 

I am particularly concerned about this beautiful Romanesque Revival style church.  As we were leaving, we noticed the sign giving the details for the T.Q. Indulgence.  Pope Pius X granted the indulgence forever to the church.  The sign said that the indulgence is granted to all those who enter the church, every time they enter, with most of the usual conditions for a plenary indulgence. 

How does one close a Church that has such an indulgence attached to it?!!


It is sad day when a church closes.

It may be very short sighted, considering the long-term.

On the other hand, if the bills aren’t being paid… what to do?  The bill must be paid.  Church isn’t free.

The Church changed the discipline concerning indulgences quite a while ago.  The toties quoties indulgence grants are no longer in force.  Any particular plenary indulgence can be gained once a day, not "as often as it happens howeverso often".

The issue of the old grant of an indulgence itself is not enough to prevent a church from being closed, even though our Catholic sensibility cries out at it.  It just seems so wrong on a gut level.


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  1. elliot says:

    Get a group together to petition your bishop to consider giving one of the churches over to a tradtional Latin mass order of priests, like the Institute of Christ the King. They have been known to take over closed churches or churches which were slated for closing and turn them completely around into thriving parishes…just a thought.

  2. Corleone says:

    Elliot – a very good suggestion. But as we don’t know where this city is, we cannot discount the fact that the church closings are in fact a deliberate act on the part of the church leadership there. I can name several cases where churches (yes, usually the most beautiful ones which happen to be in the inner-city areas and often in neighbourhoods which just happen to be slated for gentrification) were slated for closure for such and such reason, even though they were as full as any other parishes. Reason being, such parishes were consoliated (see absorbed) into more liberal parishes whose churches had none of the older trappings (i.e. no statues, high altar etc). This wqas in fact what happened in the archdiocese of LA, specifically in the case of St Vibiana cathedral. The pretense was “it would be too expensive to fix up”, but the Roj Mahal ended up costing nearly $200 million dollars, meanwhile a developer purchased St Vibiana’s for $4.6 million and then fixed it up to code for roughly $6 million more. A complete idiot can do the math here.

    Point being, your suggestion makes complete and absolutel sense. But there may be more sinister (no offense to all the lefties out there) forces at work here.

  3. elliot says:


    Yeah…I know and I’ve thought that as well. There are many bishops who would reather see closed churches than the TLM in one of them or the fact that some bishops want to sell the property to boost the income of the diocese or to help cover…ummm…certain extraordinary expenses and such like.

  4. Corleone says:

    Elliot…um…extraordinary expenses? Hmmm. Surely you aren’t suggesting certain bishops would make parishoners suffer for their own mishandlings. (cough)

  5. Shannon says:

    In this particular situation there is no possible chance that this Bishop would allow this structure to be used for the celebration of the TLM. It’s unfortunate.

  6. Viking says:

    One thing confuses me about selling off churches. If the building has been consecrated, that is dedicated to be used as a church, wouldn’t it be a sacrilege to sell the church? I can understand closing it down and mothballing the place if the bills aren’t being paid. Perhaps loosing the building to the local gov’t due to non-payment of taxes but can a properly dedicated church actually be sold?

  7. Fr. Johnson says:

    Here is a brief comment on the canonical point raised about the “toties quoties” indulgence attached to this church. (And anyone more knowledgeable on this matter, please feel free to revise or correct.) Indulgences of this kind, granted in perpetuity, by competent authority are not revoked by the usual formula “all other provisions to the contrary notwithstanding” (which formula–or equivalent words–are included in all decrees that involve a change of the law.) These indulgences, and any other similar privileges, have to be revoked “nominatim” (specifically and by name) if they have been granted “nominatim.” There are, in fact, many such churches and altars with this or a similar privilege in Rome itself, none of which have ever had their privileges revoked, to my knowledge.

  8. Origen Adamantius says:

    It is false to assume that the closing of churches is sign of hostility towards the OF. Most of the East Coast diocese suffer from three things: priest shortage, population movement, and ethnic parishes. The population shift has created the situation where a suburban parish has one priest and 3,000 families while a city parish has one priest and 300 people–with another church two blocks away.

    The ethnic parishes, particularly in areas that have several on one block, while offering a rich history, are theologically problematic when they are used to separate the one body of Christ in worship, only a certain type can come and worship here or we won’t worship with them.

    The closing of the older churches are tragic for their history, beauty, and a sign of loss of faith in an area. Many times , however, “modern” churches–more recently built, benefit from acquiring their art and marble.

  9. Steve says:

    Has anyone identified what Archdiocese/Diocese this is taking place in?

  10. Father Johnson, perhaps one of the resident canon lawyers will way in, but isn’t that the reason for the wording “Everything to the contrary not withstanding, even if deserving of special mention.” in the decree issuing the 1968 Enchiridion of Indulgences? See: http://www.ourladyswarriors.org/indulge/sapd1968.htm

  11. Charivari Rob says:

    Viking, I think a consecrated building (such as a church) may be “relegated to profane use”. I think that’s the phrase, anyway. ‘Profane’, of course, meaning something closer to “not concerned with religion or religious purposes” than “serving to debase or defile what is holy”. I presume there’s some sort of ritual or procedure to be followed – removing relics and other sacred objects, etc…

    I believe the church has (or should have) some obligation (due diligence, you might call it) to establish what a potential buyer would intend to use the property for – and to factor that into the decision to go ahead (or not) with a sale.

    Origen Adamantius, I presume you’re talking about the entity that is sometimes also called a ‘National Parish’? I have a small amount of familiarity with one or two around here, one literally 75 yards across the town common from a territorial parish.

    Some of the difficulties you allude to are present without ethnic parishes. I live in a city neighborhood which, back in the day, was densely populated primarily by large Iris-American Catholic families. There was a jam-packed territorial parish every few blocks. I mean territorial both in the canonical sense and in the sense that each one might as well have had its own moat and drawbridge. Each had its own culture and identity, despite being all people of the same ethnicity Around here, a “mixed marriage” was marrying someone from another parish.

    The problem peculiar to those parishes which were erected as National Parishes is that the power to suppress them may not lie with the local bishop (as is the case with territorial parishes), but with Rome.

  12. Susan Peterson says:

    In many cases the reason a parish can’t be kept open is not the lack of people who want to attend there, and not even a lack of money to maintain the building. No, the main reason is the lack of priests. My husband’s Anglican parish, who were kicked out of their church when they left the Episcopal diocese and went under an African bishop, has moved into an empty Catholic parish a few blocks up the road. Yes, while a Catholic church it had many fewer people than it once had had, but it still had many more than does my husband’s parish. Probably 3 or 4 times as many on the books. My husband’s parish doesn’t have fill the seats on Sunday, yet they will be able to afford to keep it open, and to pay the priest enough that he can live on it, frugally, with his family of four children. So money is not the issue. The Catholic parish had to be consolidated with a nearby one because of the lack of priests.
    This one isn’t a great loss architecturally at all by the way -of the two church buildings they chose the architectually much better one for the consolidated parish. The Angligans have considerable 70’s horrors to undo.
    Susan Peterson

  13. Corleone says:

    Viking and Charivari – Charivari is correct in this. Churches have been closed and sold throughout history. One of the biggest examples I can think of is the Umayyad “Mosque” of Damascus. The story is that the Umayyad Caliph “purchased” the church from the Christian community of Damascus, but the reality is probably much different (i.e. brutal and coercive). Here in Palermo, there is a church in the heart of the historic center formerly known as San Paolino dei Giardinieri which was bombed during World War II, then around 10 years ago given to the Mohammedan community here to use as a Mosque. So, this happens far too often, unfortunately.

    Don’t even get me started on what the Belgian bishops are doing.

  14. Susan Peterson says:

    Sorry, “doesn’t half fill. ”

    By the way, I held up the empty plastic container of the Holy Water font jokingly to the Anglican priest, saying maybe I would sneak some holy water into it. This is not an Anglo-Catholic group at all. But they have already decided not to remove the one truly Catholic feature of the church, a large crucifix in the front. And to my immense surprise, when I returned the holy water fonts were full. Apparently the Catholics left their large container of holy water full when they left, and they used that to fill them. I told the Anglican priest that it was a reminder of our baptism, and he liked that and said he would tell people that. I think the other uses of holy water wouldn’t go over well there, but it was a kind act for me and may help these very Evangelical Anglicans think a bit more sacramentally.

    I am fond of these folks and think that if we had to lose a Catholic parish, this wasn’t a bad thing to happen to their building. And they have all sorts of plans for evangelizing the nearby low income housing project and making Christians out of unchurched folk, which is the sort of thing that Catholics are often hesitant to try to do.

  15. Breier says:

    The “reform” of Indulgences seems to me a great shame, especially how stingy the system is now, even as in other areas the church has been more generous (like communion twice a day). Perhaps now that the liturgical reform is being critically reviewed, we can also turn to the relative merits of the 1968 Enchiridian vs, say, the Raccolta?

  16. Steve says:

    Someone should let the SSPX about the neo gothic church.

  17. Mac McLernon says:

    Hey, Fr Z, what happened to your post on the Tablet and Fr Finigan? I tried clicking on the comments, and I got a message in cyrillic lettering, and when I refreshed the page it had completely disappeared…


  18. Tom says:

    They always try to keep the ugly ones even though they’d make lovely Dept of Motor Vehicle offices

  19. Ellen Conlon says:


    The thread was removed by Fr. Z because it posed some awkward questions that Fr. Z would rather not answer.

    This comment will be deleted in similar fashion shortly.

    – – – –

    Or maybe we can all stop making nasty comments about one another and try to be Christians.

    What do you think, Father?

  20. Boston Architect says:

    Are we surprised when “corporate speak” finds its way into the lexicon of Church administration? The parallel between recent parish reconfigurations and “corporate downsizing” is alarming.

    In terms of church closings, it reflects a heartless form of “asset management” so prevalent in the corporate world. Who would think that Church administrator’s could ever be at ease quantifying our parochial efficiency (vitality) with a statistical metric called a “Sacramental Index” (authored by Bishop Richard Lennon)? It effectively reduced Souls and communities (large and small) to “headcount”.

    This draconian administration of Church as a “business model” has left 65 parishes either shuttered or destroyed in Boston. How does this secular measure of worth ever square with our Lord’s desire for every Soul (tiny community or large) to come to Him (Luke 15:4-10) is beyond my comprehension. I think hirelings have been given far too much credibility and responsibility for far too long in this diocese. We need greater visibility and direct leadership from our hierarchy with substantially less delegation.

    What is particularly troubling is the gradual lay professionalization of staff both in the Chancery and within Boston’s Catholic education and healthcare system. It seems professional credentials are given far greater weight than orthodox Belief in far too many key posts.

    Secular values are and have been creeping into the day to day operations of the Boston Archdiocese for many years and we continue to see its fruit. In many cases it has compromised the Church’s Mission and Her ability to make an effective public Witness. The latest case now is at the door step of Catholic healthcare in Boston, Caritas Christi.

  21. Phil Steinacker says:

    Ellen Conlon,

    While you might have the courtesy (and the courage it requires) to post your name (assuming it is real), I must say you are one of the nastiest liberals I\’ve seen posting anywhere. Mac evidently is having some genuine technical problems, but I\’m not. The thread is still there – and you know it. You, not surprisingly, used her plight to mislead her, even though you know the thread was not removed and that the rest of us would catch you in your lie.

    However, what has been removed are not questions Father doesn\’t want answered but the snarky, nasty, disrespectful insinuations of cowards who hide their identities and their obvious connnection to \’the tablet.\’ Those questions were answered by others, which
    you also know, but such answers were not required and your associate and you were out of line to go on the attack that way while lecturing anyone on their Christianity.

    No, some comments were removed because Father\’s policy of posting under different names was repeatedly violated by your colleague(s) as she/they attacked his integrity. The real test of the \”truth\” of your insinuations would be to post your accusations/\”questions\”/ad hominum smears within the rules governing commenter identity.

    You know this, Ellen. I see the left (within the Church and beyond) in the UK is as intrinsically viscious, deceitful, & evil as your counterparts in the US. All of you seem very quick to throw little poison darts while singing a tune of Christian love.

    Actually, you left out the \’love\’ – an oversight on your part, I presume. Ironically, though, it is appropriate. It underscores your obvious hypocrisy, which is simply breathtaking.

    You must see your collective (a word dear to your heart, I assume) commenting activities here in terms of \’nuisance value\’ – you can\’t possibly be expending such vitriolic energy here in the belief you\’ll actually win converts to your hate-filled agenda.

    If not, may we then rightfully conclude your time spent here is purely for the purpose of demonstrating your Christian, “Catholic” love in action, right?

  22. Origen Adamantius says:

    Boston Architect

    I do not know the inner workings of Boston, but how many priests will retire in the next ten years and how many seminarians does Boston have? No one wants their parish closed, but how many Boston parishes are there, how many priests, how many sems?

  23. Charivari Rob says:

    Origen Adamantius

    The most recent figures I could quickly lay my hands on were for 2001 to 2004. Diocesan priests dropped from 900 to 850 (I think that figure includes both active and senior/retired status), order priests from 730 to 600, and other dioceses (probably includes some resident in the area to do advanced studies) actually increased from 20 to 43 in that time.

    The numbers of active priests have continued to decline in the 5 years since. Consider the generation of priests from the ‘glory days’ in the late 50s and early 60s when Cardinal Cushing was ordaining 40+ men some years – those still in active ministry are fast approaching retirement. I think there has been a dozen or two dozen retirements per year the last couple of years (among diocesan priests). I do recall my parish priest telling me about two years ago that there were about 2 dozen (at that time) who had put in their requests to retire and were simply waiting for the Archdiocese to approve and give them dates.

    At the same time, I believe there have been 5-10 ordinations per year the last several years (usually less than 10). I don’t know the current number of men in formation. The vocations website shows photos of about 3 dozen, but I don’t know if that’s current or complete.

    I have even less information about the Order priests. I get the impression that they, too are dealing with net reductions in the number of active priests. Off the top of my head, I know of at least two parishes nearby that are still extant in anything like the from their parishioners want because Orders took them on after their last diocesan priests retired. At the same time, I know one parish that closed when the Order that had staffed it for decades told the Archdiocese it could no longer provide the priests needed.

    Anyway, the rough figure I heard often (and that was a year or two ago) was that there were less than a thousand priests, and continuing to shrink. That for a diocese that reduced from a peak of ~400 parishes to 292 or whatever it is now.

    Without a significant increase in vocations, we might eventually reach equilibrium at about 300 diocesan priests. I can’t imagine more Order priests that and could easily imagine less. So, what, 500 priests to staff 200-300 parishes, considering some parishes need 2 or more priests, some priests are needed in other ministries or in chancery offices, or aren’t suited to being pastors, or will have to take on responsibilities for more than one parish, priests need vacations/sabbaticals/continuing education/sick leave, a substitute pool is needed, more and more priests are living alone, young priests will be named as pastors with scant experience, etc…..

    There’s some of the ugly truth. We could have all the money needed to keep the buildings open. We could have more people, enough that there was no doubt a parish was a ‘good’ parish. We would still lack priests.

  24. Boston Architect says:

    In my experience it is ironic that Cardinal O’Malley has declined to invited either the FSSP or the ICR despite repeated requests. I suspect he has little use for priests that celebrate only the EF. If his promotion of the Neo-Catechumenate, Focolare, Cursillo, the Charismatic Renewal, especially among the growing Latino population is any indication, I suspect he has little appreciation for traditional ecclesiology, particularly as it is expressed in the EF. Unfortunately, I think the Cardinal’s vision for renewal is still grounded in the ecclessiologies expressed in the above movements. The EF is either for “nostalgics” or not on the radar screen

    The decline of Priestly ranks, including Seminarians and Religious Sisters in Boston since 1965, speak volumes the state of local Catholic families as they continue to assimilate into the wider secular culture. If voting patterns and the behavior of Catholics who hold public office are any indication, the Catholic Boston I knew as a child (1960’s) is no more. This seriously reflects the Church’s declining visibility and standing in the public square. I suspect the breakdown Catechetical formation among the young has produced almost three generations of Catholics largely ignorant of their Faith.

    Moving forward, orthodox formation, that results in Sacramental practice will be most important in our recovery. How to press on will be quite daunting, particularly among a professional class where spiritual poverty is most pervasive. Meanwhile, I suspect the Domus Dei will become increasingly rare presence in our landscape. It’s a hard pill for me to swallow.

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