Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Mediation? Is the Diocese One Big Union?

WILKES-BARRE – Representatives from a group trying to stop the closing of local parishes held a news conference outside Sacred Heart Church in Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday to give details about their latest efforts, hinting at a possible lawsuit.

About 35 people prayed the rosary after the announcement.

Noreen Foti, who has helped spearhead the push that now includes seven parishes in Luzerne County and one in Scranton, said the Council of Parishes of Northeastern Pennsylvania has joined a group of parishes from eight dioceses nationwide in making a “request for mediation” that was delivered to the Vatican on Tuesday by Boston activist Peter Borre.

“Mr. Borre has been the long-standing leader of this effort to alert the Vatican of the unprecedented suppression of Catholic parishes in America,” Foti said. Suppression is the official term the Catholic Church typically applies in closing parishes.

The 22-page document seeks to suspend the appeals process already started by parish members in an effort to stop the closing. Those appeals are submitted to the Apostolic Nuncio in Washington, D.C., the pope’s representative in America. Once the appeal is submitted, those who are appealing usually have little or no say in the process until a ruling is returned.

Mediation would begin a new process “with clear responsibilities on both sides,” according to Foti.

Foti said “Catholicism in America is in a crisis.” She cited a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey last year that found about one-third of respondents who said they were raised Catholic no longer describe themselves that way.

Foti also noted that when Bishop Joseph Martino took office in October 2003, there were 231 parishes, and by the time his latest, diocese-wide restructuring is completed, 122 of them – 53 percent – will have been closed since his arrival.

Foti said massive closings in Boston resulted in 35 percent to 40 percent of parishioners leaving the Catholic faith. She noted a similar outcome here would translate into the Diocese of Scranton losing between 58,000 to 67,000 believers.

Before she even arrived to make her comments, several of those gathering predicted that closing Sacred Heart would push many parishioners out of the Catholic Church and into one of the nearby protestant parishes.

Foti also noted that some local Catholics believe the closings are not the result of last year’s extensive, diocese-wide process known as “Called to Holiness and Mission,” which took about a year and involved numerous local and regional committees. Instead, she said, some of the closings appear to have been planned long before that process began.

To bolster that claim, she cited an exchange of letters between a group she and her husband founded – the Sacred Heart Wilkes-Barre Foundation – and Martino’s Central Region Episcopal Vicar, Monsignor Joseph Bambera.

The Fotis wrote a letter to Martino outlining their group’s proposal to raise money and save Sacred Heart. In February 2007, Bambera replied with a letter that cited the high estimated cost of repairs at the church.

“The expenditure of millions of dollars for the repair of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, in light of the current profile of its parishioners and the questionable future of many parishes throughout the Diocese, would reflect an irresponsible use of funds,” Bambera wrote.

The Fotis argue that proves the diocese had decided to close the church two years before the decision was formally announced this February and nearly a year before “Called to Holiness” began.

Diocesan spokesman Bill Genello did not respond to an e-mail and voice message seeking comment.

From the Times Leader

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Roaming Catholic writes:
I must admit, Sacred Heart Church is a very beautiful church inside and out, giving the circumstances. Tabernacle in the middle, statues and holy paintings everywhere; has that "old" church aura about it. Alas, it has been taken over by all the North End progressives that inhabit the area. Don't know if Father Murgas, the true pioneer of what we now know as radio, would like his parish now. Personally I would like to see the historical nature of the parish kept in tack, but not all the liberal broo-ha-ha that has flooded in, causing, besides weather and time itself, the foundations to erode away.