Rome intervenes to keep open church slated for closing

Close this? Really?

When parish churches have to be closed, heartbreak ensures.

But do churches have to be closed?

I have seen some instances where viable places were shut down, with the concomitant hurt and anger, for no very good reason that I could discern.

Furthermore, once they are gone, they aren’t going to be recovered.

What sort of faith in an effort of “New Evangelization” do we evince if, while chattering about it, we are closing the churches we need to fill in the very places where the “New Evangelization” needs to be pursued?

And – YES! – I know that the bills have to be paid.  I have griped and reminded and urged action about that (and received hate mail for it).

I digress.

This story caught my eye.   Do you recall that I wrote about flash “Mass mobs”? HERE Some have coordinated efforts to get people to attend Mass at a struggling parish, to put a little life into the places.

¡Vaya lío!

From the Buffalo News:

Church closings in limbo as Rome overrules bishop
Vatican’s recent ruling could clear the way for work to begin on St. Ann Church, and opens the door for Catholics across the country to challenge shutting of churches

A group of local Catholics battling Bishop Richard J. Malone over the future of an East Side church has found an unexpected ally – the Vatican.

St. Ann Church just six months ago was on track to be demolished.

But the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, in a recent ruling on an appeal by St. Ann parishioners, has made it clear that repairs of up to $12 million are not a good enough reason for the building to be demolished or converted into something other than a Catholic church.

“Rome is saying it should be a church,” said Ronald Bates, part of the group fighting to keep the church going. “We can’t throw it away. It’s craziness.”

The Vatican decision marked a rare and resounding win for Catholic lay people objecting to a bishop’s decision.

The ruling on St. Ann from the Congregation for Clergy potentially could have implications far beyond the Buffalo diocese, opening the door for Catholics across the country to contest church closings.

“All of the bishops of the United States are looking at this decree and probably needing to make new assessments of what to do,” said Sister Kate Kuenstler, a canon lawyer. “This is a thunderclap from the Vatican, and it affects all the bishops in the United States.”

The decision could clear the way for restoration to begin on the Gothic-style church, which was built in 1886 and needs significant masonry repairs.


Very interesting article over there.

There is a message here.

If you want something to happen, you have to work for it and pay for it.

Free exercise of religion isn’t free.  We have bills to pay.  If YOU want something – A, B, C… whatever – and you are unwilling to pitch in and put sweat or money or both into it, you will lose it.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ¡Hagan lío!, "How To..." - Practical Notes, Brick by Brick, Cri de Coeur, Hard-Identity Catholicism, Linking Back, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, New Evangelization, Our Catholic Identity, The Coming Storm, The Drill, The future and our choices, Vatican II and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. mamajen says:

    Similar thing happened in Syracuse a few years ago

    Vatican told the diocese twice that the parish should not be closed, diocese ignored the Vatican (or rather “interpreted things differently”). There have been some fishy happenings around here in recent years. Our current bishop’s predecessor seemed intent on closing places and shuffling priests before he left. Some of our most orthodox priests were not reassigned anywhere despite the “priest shortage” that necessitated these changes in the first place.

  2. Henry Belton says:

    TLM was celebrated at St Ann’s a few year ago. Beautiful pics can be found here:

  3. Iacobus M says:

    “What sort of faith in an effort of “New Evangelization” do we evince if, while chattering about it, we are closing the churches we need to fill in the very places where the “New Evangelization” needs to be pursued?”
    Good point. Unless the area around the church has actually been depopulated (not likely), there are plenty of people in the neighborhood who could be in the church but aren’t.
    -Iacobus M

  4. Carolina Geo says:

    I just wonder why it always is that whenever a church “needs” to be closed, it is always a beautiful older church that gets the axe. Why is it never a new spaceship-style roundhouse church that is deleted? Those, frankly, are the ones that need to go.

  5. Traductora says:

    I was living in San Francisco when they closed St Bridget’s on Van Ness Ave…supposedly because it didn’t meet the new earthquake code after the Loma Prieta earthquake. This is despite the fact that the congregation had raised all the money (several million dollars) necessary to repair it and make it meet code.

    I think the archbishop at the time of the final decision was Levada, although I could be wrong…the San Francisco diocese passed through a number of archbishops and bishops, some of whom were immoral, some of whom were incompetent, and some of whom were both. And they all HATED St. Bridget’s, because it looked like a real church, it was beautiful, and it reminded them of all their failings. In fact, I think the thing that really enraged them was that the congregation actually had raised the money to fix it, thereby showing the cloven hoof of the (conservative) laity…

  6. Sonshine135 says:

    Looks like a perfect church to have full-time Masses in the Extraordinary Form. Do this, and I bet this church would be the most well attended in about 2 years. I love old churches.

  7. Sandy says:

    @ Carolina, exactly! Get rid of the horrendous modern “churches” instead! This one was slated to be demolished?! I want to cry! It has to be a demonic plan to destroy beauty that is dedicated to God. Something is seriously wrong, but we all know that already. Come, Lord Jesus!

  8. Robbie says:

    I guess the church looked too Catholic. No doubt, this discussion would never have taken place had it looked more like a hospital chapel.

  9. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    1) It should be rare that the Vatican needs to reverse the decision of a local ordinary.

    2) It should be un-necessary to close parish churches in the self-evidently blossoming, new Springtime, new Pentecost of the Church since the Council.

    3) Could this give all concerned an opportunity to explain the importance of Church architecture?

  10. Pingback: Closing Churches | DeaconCast

  11. Nan says:

    There’s a preference to keep the buildings rather than to destroy them also; ordinarily the diocese has the discretion to decide but I guess not when the only reason to destroy is because it needs restoration.

    For those who want the Good Church Space Shuttle or whatever to be closed, keep in mind that decisions on closure are typically made due to population shifts’ in my diocese, most of the mergers a few years ago were due to low population in an area that had formerly had many Catholics in a small enough area that there were several parishes or loss of population in rural areas. Out of 21 groupings, 2 didn’t appeal; one was my parish, which the other parish had allowed to share its priest and was really formalizing an informal arrangement, the other was a city boy error; the parish understood the inevitability of the merger but asked to be merged with a parish historically from the same ethnic group, where they had family in the town they shopped in and that change was granted. The priests at the chancery had no idea and since it was a new situation nobody thought about the parishioners having ties to one town but not the other.

    Typically parishes are merged, then the merged parish decides what to do with the buildings. It may have been a problem that the decision was made at the diocesan level.

  12. But the real question is who will come up with the $12 million to repair it. I actually have been to Mass in parishes where I know the collection can’t possibly be enough to keep the place going by paying ordinary expenses (Holy Innocents in Manhattan comes to mind, even with daily collections). If it comes to bulldozing the church or allowing it to collapse from neglect, sadly, bulldozing is preferable.

    Beyond that, we need to stop being such defeatists and find ways to start filling some of these churches again. Granted, many were excessive when they were built, but in other areas, we should be asking, “Why can’t we make converts and reverts?”

  13. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    Excessive? The parishes were usually built from the labor of Catholics in the diocese and, if the stories are to be believed, the parochial school system was built from the nickels, dimes and pennies of hard working immigrants. The buildings weren’t built for this generation, here and now, but with a vision toward eternity. How can a building be “excessive” when trying to show the grandeur of God? (Excessive kitsch being the exception to the rule, of course).

  14. If we’re going to talk about “excessive” in the matter of church architecture and furnishings, let’s talk about the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles: excessive in its brutal, Soviet-style modernist ugliness; and excessive in its costs ($250 million). To paraphrase Dolly Parton: it costs a lot to look this cheap.

    It’s too bad we’re not as excessive in our generosity toward God in lavishing His houses with gold and jewels and beautiful artwork as we are in lavishing them on country clubs and hotels and spas and resorts, or indeed our own homes and persons.

  15. Pingback: San Francisco to Promote Beauty in Liturgy & Music -

  16. mburn16 says:

    “I just wonder why it always is that whenever a church “needs” to be closed, it is always a beautiful older church that gets the axe.”

    Because its the “beautiful older churches” that are sitting nearly-empty during Sunday Mass while pipes break and beams start to cave in. These kinds of churches were built during a certain time period – say, from around 1860 to 1930. Most of them are located in urban areas (there are exceptions) that were once densely-populated by immigrant communities. Once people got cars, and decided that it was alright to marry outside of your nationality, these churches started to lose population as people headed for the ‘burbs – where the churches are dominated by , quite often, 1970s-style architecture (bleh), or more modern designs (superior to the prior, but still deficient).

    Detroit is an excellent example of this – you used to have St. Josaphat for the Poles, St. Anne for the Belgians, St. Joseph for the Germans, Holy Spirit for the French, etc. Now many of those parishes are in disrepair because the communities they were built on are no longer in existence.

  17. Rob83 says:

    The diocese has something of a history of opting for demolition of older churches due to architectural deficiencies that it is claimed would cost too much to fix, the most notorious example being the cathedral itself back in the 1970s (footage of the demolition is online).

    St. Ann’s does have the misfortune of being in a rather rundown neighborhood, which has done somewhat worse than the 50% population loss the rest of the city has suffered in the last 50 years. The hardest hit for it though was when the Jesuit order vacated the church a few years back – the diocese seemed to have a general policy during the last consolidation that if the religious order running a parish left, the parish would be closed. There are a number of parishes still open that have a standing closure notice on them should the religious order ever pull out.

  18. You can tell they were proud of the fact that they could afford electric lights back in the day. Endearing, but tacky now. If they succeed in raising the money needed for repairs, etc., maybe they can remove all the bathroom vanity light bulbs!

    Seriously, though, 50 years from now (that is, if we actually start taking evangelization seriously), there will be a great deal of regret in the Eastern United States for all of the properties hastily sold off. A very shortsighted practice.

  19. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Nonsense. The aluminum cap on the Washington Monument is not “tacky,” and 1900’s lightbulb decoration is not tacky either. Nor does it hurt people to have to look at the fact that fashions change.

    As always, it astonishes me that people love Victorian and Edwardian houses and will do anything to preserve the architecture details, but the same people think it’s okey doke to change and destroy at random churches of the same vintage.

  20. Pastor Bonus says:

    I would be the first to want a beautiful church to be saved, it is heartbreaking to see a place of sacred worship abandoned or demolished. If this can be avoided it must be, but hard as it is say though not at ALL costs, the bishop should in the end have the good of the whole diocese in view and in some cases saving one church means depriving others. It is understandable that local congregations want to save thier own church but we do need to see the bigger picture.

    But there is another reason why closing a church is preferable to keeping it open in some circumstances, sometimes because there can be a sinister ecclesiology at work. The bishop may be wanting to close a church becuase he doesn’t have enough priests. Now there are some people and groups who are only too happy to step in and ‘run’ parishes without priests with all the nonsense and connotations that it sends out; that we don’t need priests to run a church, Eucharistic services, no Mass etc. There are those who promote priestless parishes for their own theological (Protestant) agenda.

    What I would say is lets not rush to close any church but let’s not be naive either, we need funds to keep church’s open but above all we need priests and we need Catholics to marry, have children and encourage vocations in the domestic church in order to support the mission of the Mother Church.

  21. Fr AJ says:

    A number of parish churches have been closed over the years in my Diocese. It’s a complicated issue but it seems to result a lot of hard feelings and people leaving the Church. Edicts from on high with little to no consultation with the parishioners just do not seem to engender good feelings. For good or ill, many times peoples identities as Catholics are intimately tied to their parish church. At times it seems no thought is given to that and the approach is more of a corporate one, each parish is like a McDonald’s, if we close the one you go to just go to the one in the next town, it’s just a building and they are all exactly the same.

  22. madisoncanonist says:

    The Congregation for Clergy (or any dicastery that receives recourses, apart from the Signatura) can overturn the decision of a bishop for two reasons:
    1. The bishop made a legal error. This could be an error in procedendo (e.g., he omitted some necessary procedural formality such as consulting the presbyteral council) or an error in decernendo (not that he made a bad decision, but that he lacked or at least failed to cite objectively sufficient reasons for his decision, such as, in the case of relegation of a church, a “grave cause,” c. 1222).
    2. On the merits, i.e., the decision was perfectly licit and valid, but the Congregation for Clergy thinks it’s a bad decision and forces the bishop to change it.
    For better or for worse, the Congregation for Clergy is NOT in the habit of overturning decisions on the merits. They will virtually never overturn the decision of a bishop just because it’s a dumb decision. Even an ultramontanist like myself can see the advantages of that kind of restraint and conservatism on the part of the Curia.
    My very strong suspicion, then, is that the relegation of this church was overturned on the basis of some legal error. For example, if the decree says, “whereas the building is in need of $12 million in repairs, therefore, having consulted the presbyteral council and other interested parties, I hereby relegate this church to secular but not sordid use,” the bishop would have failed to cite an objectively grave cause. The dollar amount of the repairs is not a grave cause on its own; the bishop would also need to cite the fact that the parish does not have $12 million, that every feasible effort to raise the money has been tried and failed, etc. In other words, he needs to show why it is impossible to keep the church open, not just why it would be convenient to close it.
    What that means in the long run is that this bishop just needs to correct his legal error, write a better decree, and close the church again, and the Congregation almost certainly will not stop him.

  23. mamajen says:

    Fr AJ,

    Yes! You really understand.

  24. wanda says:

    Fr. AJ, Thank you. You really seem to understand what is going on in many minds and hearts. Here in my area, there has been this corporate move from uptown to do exactly what you describe.
    ‘Oh, there aren’t enough priests so this is what must happen.’ Many of these cluster and sister arrangements have happened – with lots of ‘we’re all in this together’ sort of talk. I think it is assumed that if one or more churches are closed that we’ll all just go to one of our sister churches.
    News flash, if you close the church that I have attended for over 40 years, I won’t be going to one of the sister churches. (Oh, and the church I attend was formed over 40 years ago because the one main church in town was too crowded – so areas were split up and we got the boot to go forth and prosper, and well we did.)

  25. Rob in Maine says:

    How strange! My church in Maine was closed because Bishop Malone was promoted to Buffalo!

    Our Parish has three churches. St Pats was in good shape – structurally, financially and spiritually. However, whereas we had no seated Bishop to approve the closing and sale of one of the other churches and whereas St Patrick’s was approved for closure five years ago (until the parishioners rallied and put $ in the basket) therefore St Patrick’s was closed anyways to save the parish $ over all.

  26. Terentia says:

    In the diocese I live in, we are undergoing parish mergers. In each merger of 2-3 parishes, 1 church is being designated the parish church and the other churches are designated either additional church or church for occasional use. The occasional use churches can be used for weddings or funerals of original members. There are no plans for demolition. Many people are outraged but there are good reasons for the mergers. We are in the buckle of the rust belt and the general population of the area is decreasing as young people leave and old people die. Like every where else, we Catholics have been contracepting and the once average of 5-6 children per family is now 2-3 children. Because they have only 1 or 2 sons, the parents are reluctant to encourage vocations. And, finally, we had 24 yrs of a bishop who actively discouraged vocations because, as he publicly stated, if the vocation crisis got bad enough Rome would have to ordain women. Our churches are relatively empty and 75% of our priests are near or over retirement age. There really is no choice.

  27. Terentia says:

    Just to be clear, I meant there is no choice but to close churches. The Church has no authority to ever confer ordination on women.

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