Church makes pitch for tax relief:
Protesters at St. Frances stunned, angry after getting decision on Christmas Mass
SCITUATE - A representative of the Boston Catholic Archdiocese cited church law as the reason why the town should not tax the closed St. Frances X. Cabrini Church.
‘‘It has never been offered for sale because it is being controlled by a canon law,’’ said Stephen D. Mahoney, president of New England Real Estate Valuation, who represented the archdiocese before the board of assessors at a presentation last night. ‘‘The church intends it to be sold, but can’t because it’s been appealed to the Apostolic Signatura.’’
Churches are usually exempt from property taxes because they are nonprofit. But the assessors decided last summer that the property should be taxed because the archdiocese is no longer using it for its stated nonprofit purpose.
The 30-acre property, comprising the church, rectory and parish center, is assessed at $4.45 million. Scituate assessors sent the archdiocese a property tax bill for more than $40,000 on Dec. 1, but the archdiocese has asked for an abatement.
The assessors are in the process of deciding whether or not to grant the abatement.
St. Frances Cabrini has been occupied 24 hours a day by a group of parishioners since the archdiocese closed the church in October 2004.
The parishioners have sued in Suffolk Superior Court and appealed the closing of the church to the Vatican. A Vatican tribunal upheld the decision to close the church in January, and parishioners appealed that decision to the Apostolic Signatura, a higher tribunal.
Mahoney said that appeal ties the archdiocese’s hands. Under church law, the archdiocese can’t sell the properties while they are under appeal.
‘‘The archdiocese is open to a fact of a decision that has not come out yet,’’ Mahoney said. ‘‘The fact is, it’s encumbered. It’s still being used in a religious way.’’
Mahoney gave the assessors supporting materials, including a list of sacred objects still in the church.
Filings for abatements are not open to public inspection.
In comments during the presentation, two members of the three-member board expressed concern that the archdiocese was trying to have it both ways.
‘‘The archdiocese’s position as they fight the parishioners is it is no longer a church,’’ said assessor Brian Sullivan. ‘‘I think their position is inherently illogical in front of us. They are saying we are looking for this exemption. However, we’re fighting to stop the religious use.’’
‘‘That implies it hasn’t ended,’’ Mahoney said.
Assessor Timothy O’Brien said it’s the Vatican, rather than the archdiocese, that now has control while the tribunal makes a decision on the appeal.
‘‘I think it maintains its characterization as a church or religious institution until such a decision is made,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t see what the hurry is to reassess. It can’t be too long.’’
There was some debate at the beginning of the presentation about whether it should be an open meeting. The assessors said they felt the presentation of facts could be done publicly since it did not include income information.
At the end of the presentation, the assessors took the abatement request under advisement. Their deliberations will not be open to the public.
Their decision about whether to make the archdiocese pay is due by the end of the month, and it can be appealed to the Appellate Tax Board.
The St. Frances parishioners are working to reschedule a meeting with Cardinal Sean O’Malley that was supposed to have taken place in January. Cardinal O’Malley had asked for more time to consider their situation, and the meeting has been further delayed because of his elevation to cardinal.
The parishioners found out yesterday that their request for a priest to say Mass on Easter has been denied.
Diana Schoberg may be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright 2006 The Patriot Ledger
Transmitted Wednesday, April 05, 2006