Who Owns this Catholic Church? Parishioners Assert It’s Theirs

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March 8, 2015; Boston Globe

For several years, NPQ has been covering the story of the St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church, whose parishioners have for a full decade been holding a vigil in response to an edict from the archdiocese that it be closed. The parishioners have since organized under a nonprofit, the Friends of St. Frances X. Cabrini, and they say that they and their predecessors paid for the church and parish hall through their hard-won contributions over the years.

The archdiocese has now issued a letter threatening “civil recourse” if the congregation does not vacate the building by today, March 9th. But Mary Beth Carmody, an attorney for the nonprofit, says that the pontifical council has the authority to override a decision made last summer by the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court. Carmody, a former U.S. Attorney, has more than a professional interest having, helped lead a six-year vigil at the St. Jeremiah Catholic Church in Framingham. She says that the archdiocese’s 10-year-long reorganization in Massachusetts, during which it closed about 70 churches, has been “universally recognized as a failure” and that the faith and dedication of the parishioners at St. Frances could help energize current efforts to re-evangelize lapsed Catholics.

“The Archdiocese of Boston was epicenter of the sexual abuse crisis, and it was the epicenter of the reconfiguration,” she said. “This is an opportunity for the cardinal to turn it around and to make the archdiocese the epicenter of rebuilding the church, not disbanding it.”

But that may not be the only way that this church and others like it might help lead the larger church into the future. When we covered the story last year, we noted,

“Apparently, the church has diverged from what a normal Catholic parish does, because in the absence of a priest, two women from the congregation take turns leading the devotions. One of the women is 79-year-old Barbara Nappa, a parishioner for 50 years, who says she is only doing what the church needs. ‘Jesus had so many women followers and apostles…it’s about time the women stepped up,’ Nappa said. ‘We’re needed and we’re here.’

“She adds, ‘But when I looked out and saw the faces of all the people wanting to hear the word of the Lord, I said, “I’m here.”’

“Parishioner Nancy Fay, 52, was baptized at the church, attended its nursery school, and in 2011 held her mother’s funeral there. ‘I’ve lost a lot of my faith in the church of the archdiocese, but I haven’t lost my faith in God,” Fay said. ‘That’s why I still come here…. This just has soul, and it has meaning here. It’s not just a building.’”

—Ruth McCambridge