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O father, where art thou?

Shuttered churches denied priests for Christmas Mass

By Laura Crimaldi
Sunday, December 23, 2007, The Boston Herald

Gina Scalcione of East Boston sits solemnly in Our Lady of Mount Carmel church in East Boston, which will have no midnight Mass tomorrow. Photo by Lisa Hornak.

For the first time since parishioners began occupying closed churches in 2004, the Archdiocese of Boston is not offering priests to say Christmas Mass for those keeping vigil.

“We asked for a Mass,” said Jon Rogers, a vigil leader at St. Frances X. Cabrini in Scituate, where Communion prayer services are scheduled for tomorrow and Christmas. “The lack of consideration given to us with a response speaks volumes about the way the Archdiocese of Boston feels about us.”>

Since the vigils began, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley has honored requests from closed parishes to send a priest to celebrate a Christmas Mass on multiple occasions.

In 2004, the Rev. Laurence Borges was dispatched to his former parish, St. Albert the Great in Weymouth, to say two Christmas Masses while the church was in vigil. St. Albert reopened in July 2005 after a review panel suggested O’Malley reverse his decision.

St. Jeremiah’s Church in Framingham and St. James the Great Church in Wellesley received priests to say Christmas Eve Mass in 2005 and 2006. Our Lady of Mount Carmel in East Boston has never had a Christmas Mass, but the archdiocese has sent a priest to celebrate other occasions. The archdiocese has never honored a request for a priest from St. Therese in Everett or St. Frances.

“There has been no change in the archdiocese’s position on any of the vigil sites with regards to Masses. We are doing nothing differently than we have done previously. The vast majority of Catholics impacted by reconfiguration have moved on to welcoming parishes and become active parishioners,” said archdiocesan spokesman Terrence C. Donilon. “Our faith unites us and should not be a source of division at this time of year. We look forward to the day when those in vigil will join us in active and vibrant parishes.”

Suzanne Hurley, a vigil organizer at St. James, said parishioners had lined up a sympathetic priest to say a Christmas Mass, but the arrangement was called off due to “excessive pressure” put on the priest by archdiocesean officials.

Hurley declined to name the priest. She said a lay-led Communion service and Christmas pageant will be held on Christmas Eve in place of the Mass. “To me there is nothing lost in having a lay-led Communion service. It’s the same message,” said Hurley. But she said attendance will likely be lower without a priest on hand.

The archdiocese allows MonsignorWilliam Roche, a retired priest, to say Mass at St. Jeremiah’s on Sundays, which will go on as planned today. Jackie Lemmerhirt, a vigil leader at the Framingham church, declined to discuss their plans.

No services are scheduled at St. Therese, where a vigil began more than 1,000 days ago.

“We just man the station,” said vigil leader Harry Whelan.

Peter Borre, co-chairman of the Council of Parishes, an advocacy group for closed churches, said the outlook for suppression appeals filed with the Apostolic Signatura in Rome is “encouraging.”

“Boston’s bishops should be asking themselves, in the words of the prophet Jeremiah, Chapter 2, Verse 31, ‘Why do my people say: We have moved on, we will come to you no more?’ ” said Borre.

At Our Lady of Mount Carmel, vigil leaders are organizing a lay-led Communion service, said Gina Scalcione. When parishioners met Monday with Auxiliary Bishop Robert F. Hennessey to discuss reopening the church, he told them no vigiling parish would be receiving a priest, she said.

“It’s very, very discouraging to have another Christmas like this. My assumption is that they are just waiting for us to fall apart and fall down and walk away,” she said.