Closed parishes in Lowell and Revere renewing appeals after losing sacred status

Our Lady of Lourdes Church, on Endicott Avenue in Revere, was ordered closed in 2004. Our Lady of Lourdes Church, on Endicott Avenue in Revere, was ordered closed in 2004. (File/The Boston Globe/2004)
By Kathy McCabe
Globe Staff / July 24, 2011

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Catholic parishes closed for seven years in Lowell and Revere have been stripped of their sacred standing by Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, who now plans to sell the properties.

Our Lady of Lourdes in Revere and St. Jeanne D’Arc in Lowell are two of six closed parishes that have been relegated to what church law calls “profane use,’’ meaning they no longer are considered sacred space, according to the archdiocese.

The new status, which took effect last Monday, has also launched a fresh round of appeals to the Vatican by parishioners who have waged long battles to reopen their closed parishes.

O’Malley received letters of appeals from the parishes last week, and will likely reply soon, said his spokesman, Terrence C. Donilon.

“The cardinal will take a look at each one and make a decision,’’ Donilon said.

If O’Malley denies the appeals, as is widely expected, the parishioners then would appeal that decision to the Vatican. Our Lady of Lourdes already has filed its appeal to Rome, said John Verrengia, a former parishioner.

“We have an appeal that we think will protect our church from being sold,’’ said Verrengia, head of the Save Our Lady of Lourdes Committee in Revere.

Joe Clermont, a spokesman for St. Jeanne D’Arc, said parishioners seeking to keep it open believe the archdiocese did not cite a “grave reason,’’ as required by church law, to change the church’s status, he said.

“They also have to have some consultation with parishioners,’’ Clermont said. “They really didn’t follow the process, so we are following through with the Vatican.’’

The Vatican last year rejected appeals filed by each parish, seeking to overturn O’Malley’s decision to shutter them in 2004 as part of a sweeping reconfiguration of the archdiocese.

Parishioners now are encouraged by recent rulings of the Vatican’s Congregation of the Clergy, regarding appeals made from parishes in Western Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania.

“It [the decision] basically said that the archbishop can close a parish, but that the church itself must remain a holy place,’’ Verrengia said. “That gives us hope.’’

The Committee to Save Our Lady of Lourdes, which did not conduct a vigil protest, has organized reunion Masses to bring together former parishioners. A Mass before Christmas at a local hall drew 200 people, Verrengia said.

He hopes to have another one by the end of summer. The reunion Masses have also helped the committee raise money to fight the appeals in Rome. They have hired a canon law lawyer who presents their case to the Vatican courts in Latin, the church’s official language.

“We’ve spent thousands, but only if we thought we had a legitimate shot,’’ Verrengia said. “Fortunately, the people of Our Lady’s have been wonderful and generous. . . .

“We’re not bad Catholics. We’re people who love our church.’’

Kathy McCabe can be reached at