Archdiocese denies plans to shut churches

By Travis Andersen
Globe Staff / October 2, 2010

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The Archdiocese of Boston is disputing an assertion from parishioners keeping vigil at a shuttered church in East Boston that there is a plan to close more than 100 churches in the coming years.

At issue are remarks made by James P. McDonough, archdiocesan chancellor, Thursday during a meeting with parishioners keeping vigil at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, one of five shuttered churches that are protesting their closings, which were part of a wave of more than 60 that began in 2004.

Terrence C. Donilon, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said the meeting was one of several that officials plan to hold with the churches in an effort to persuade parishioners to end their vigils, now that the Vatican has rejected their appeals to remain open.

The archdiocese has closed 66 parishes in an effort to address a shortage of priests, a financial crunch, and diminishing Mass attendance. In May, the Vatican’s highest court rejected canon law appeals from advocates who want the parishes reopened.

Donilon said McDonough told meeting attendees Thursday that the archdiocese will only have about 150 priests to lead parishes in 10 years. But, Donilon added, the archdiocese does not plan to close churches in any of its 291 active parishes, which also have buildings for schools and other facilities.

Stephen Ashcraft, 52, of Brighton, who is keeping vigil at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, attended the meeting and disputed that version of McDonough’s remarks.

“He said he wanted to get it down to 150 churches,’’ Ashcraft said. “I don’t know whether he said churches or parishes, but to me it’s the same.’’

Lorenzo Grasso, 58, of Revere, a Eucharistic minister who has served Holy Communion at Our Lady of Mount Carmel since 2004 without sanction from the archdiocese, also said that McDonough essentially said at the meeting that churches would close. “Churches, parishes, it’s the same thing, basically,’’ Grasso said. “I mean, what else would he be talking about, the birds and the bees?’’

Donilon said last night that with Mass attendance in the archdiocese hovering at about 17 percent and with one-third of parishes operating in the red, “clearly the archdiocese is going to look different in the coming years.’’

Asked if closing parish buildings other than churches was an option, Donilon said it was too soon to say how the archdiocese will change, while reiterating that there is no plan to close places of worship.

Peter Borre — chairman of the Council of Parishes, a group fighting parish closings in the archdiocese — said he believes many more churches will be shut, based on a conversation in June with a monsignor in the Secretariat of State at the Vatican. “I was told . . . that more parish closings were coming to Boston and they would be massive,’’ he said.

Lisa Wangsness of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at

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