Parishioners Surrender Small Catholic Church but Separate from Hierarchy

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May 16, 2016; WBUR-FM (Boston, MA)

Participants in an 11-year-long vigil to prevent the closing of the Friends of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Catholic Church in Scituate, Massachusetts, have finally given up the fight to save the building in which generations have worshipped. The Boston Archdiocese has been trying to evict the group, which has appealed every decision as they occupied the building around the clock in the longest lasting vigil in the country.

“The authorities have spoken,” one of the parishioners said. “We obey authority. And they can do with it what they will. The archdiocese can proceed to do whatever they want for getting money. That’s what they do.”

They plan to leave within the prescribed two weeks. As for the parish, John Rogers, spokesperson for the former protesters, says that the group will transition into “an all-inclusive, independent Catholic church.”

“An independent Catholic church means that everyone is included, and that there are no rules and regulations imposed by the hierarchy or the princes of the church on us,” Rogers explained.

This splintering off from the Catholic hierarchy is not new. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, many Catholic worship communities have declared their independence.

In Rochester, N.Y., in 1999, after leaders were removed from the Corpus Christi parish, a group of those parishioners began meeting as Spiritus Christi in leased space in a Presbyterian church.

In Cleveland, the pastor and some parishioners of St. Peter Catholic Church began gathering in a new location as The Community of St. Peter after the church was closed in 2010 as part of a reorganization. And at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in St. Louis, parishioners formed a not-for-profit corporation to manage the church amid a long dispute between the lay board of trustees and the archbishop over ownership of the parish property. It is now an independent Catholic church.

The Rev. William Clark, a Jesuit priest and associate professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, says that any number of small worship communities around the country have broken off from the hierarchy because of the clergy sex abuse scandal, the church’s refusal to ordain women, and the church’s opposition to gay marriage. Still, Clark says, “There’s definitely not an acceptance of the new parishes. The reason that it’s happening in the first place is a dispute with the diocese. The parishioners are not backing down and neither are the archdioceses in each of these situations.”

Some of these independent groups have priests who help them with administration of the sacraments—but only surreptitiously, because Roman Catholic bishops do not recognize these communities and would not allow the priests to participate. Some of these church communities are served by inactive, retired, or former priests.—Ruth McCambridge

  • James Leonard Park

    Yes, some Roman Catholics
    are coming to the reluctant conclusion
    that their church cannot be reformed fast enough.
    Forming independent ‘Catholic’ communities is a valid option.
    We seem to recall this happening once before,
    which resulted in Protestant Christianity.
    These ‘separated Christians’ never returned to the RC fold.
    But Free Catholicism could specify
    what changes the RC church would have to make
    for them to rejoin the ranks.
    Would we be wrong to suggest
    that most of the changes needed relate to sex?
    And the particular sexual beliefs of the RC church
    are nowhere to be found in the Bible.
    Other Christian groups do not endorse these beliefs.

  • emmettcoyne

    Item from a Dominican parish bulletin:

    6.5 people leave Catholicism for every one that joins.

    50% of young people who were raised Catholic are no longer

    Catholic today.

    79% of former Catholics leave the Church before age 23.