Vatican Rulings Protect New York Churches!

For the past 16 months, FutureChurch has actively supported parishioners in the Archdiocese of New York who appealed November 2nd 2014 and May 8, 2015 announcements by Cardinal Timothy Dolan that merged 149 of the Archdiocese’s 368 parishes.

Last week, the Vatican issued rulings for 9 of the 14 parishes whose appeals were accepted for review by the Congregation for the Clergy. In 6 of these, the Vatican took unusual care to amend the Archdiocese’s original decrees. The amendments said parishioners should be able to continue to worship in churches that had effectively been closed by Cardinal Dolan. While the Vatican did not reverse any merger rulings, the amendments provide important protections for parishioners wishing to preserve the integrity of their churches. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, (WSJ) one local leader had this to say:

“The Congregation is telling the archdiocese that you just can’t arbitrarily close churches and not allow the people to use it,” said Charles Shaw, a parishioner of St. Joseph who has helped to lead the appeals process. “The Congregation was very clear that the Polish nature of our church—and the personal nature of our church as a Polish-ethnic church—the cardinal needs to give us the right to carry on our worship in that fashion, and we’ve been doing it since the church was established in 1901.”

The WSJ also reported that three appeals were not amended and decisions about five others are still pending.

Canon lawyer Sr. Kate Kuenstler, who worked with most of the New York appeals, was pleased with the outcome: It is so good to see the Vatican respecting the parish faith community of the laity. I am delighted at the clear sensitivity of the Vatican that tempers the blunt instrument used by Cardinal Dolan to dismantle the parishes built by and for the European immigrants so many years ago.” 

By way of analysis, it seems clear that the Vatican’s protective amendments will make it more difficult for Cardinal Dolan to sell the churches of newly merged parishes. Further, the rulings effectively informed the laity that the Cardinal should not “suppress” personal parishes and that the Vatican has oversight over the sale of Catholic property. In several instances, the amendments specifically state that parishioners have the right to appeal again if the rulings are not upheld by local pastors or by Archdiocesan leadership.

FutureChurch congratulates these exceptionally faithful New York Catholics, and Sr. Kate, for this important victory on behalf of the rights of laity in the Church.

As Chicago prepares for the next round of mergers, they are asking what Chicago Catholics think.