Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

February 19, 2007


Last January 27, a corporal’s guard of devoted Latino parishioners of East Harlem’s Our Lady Queen of Angels Church demonstrated outside the church to protest its closing by archdiocesan authorities. The archdiocese had announced, as part of its realignment plan, the closing of ten churches, including that of the protesters, and the merging of eleven others with neighboring parishes. The announcement followed a three-year process of careful planning and extensive consultation with local parishioners and their clergy. A prior conclusion had authorized the closing of a larger number of parishes, but was modified after further consultation with parishioners and local clergy. Each parish threatened with closure had been given a further opportunity to make its case. The planners reconsidered and cancelled some closures.

The pain of parishioners at the closing of their church is evidence of their deep attachment to the physical and spiritual locale of their worship and reception of the sacraments. However loyal the parishioners are to the overall structure of the Church, it is clear that the loyalty of protesters is first to the local parish with a clear priority ahead of loyalty to the bishop. On the other hand, the bishop has a clear responsibility to apply available resources to where they are most needed. There have been enormous demographic changes throughout the New York archdiocese, demanding careful analysis and new allocation of resources, precisely in order that greater numbers of the faithful may experience the same deep attachment felt by those who have lost their parish. Whatever the pain of loss, it is compensated, perhaps not by historical association, but by a similar spiritual relationship in a new parish.

It is significant that closing notices for Our Lady Queen of Angels, Our Lady Help of Christians in lower Manhattan, and Our Lady of the Rosary in Yonkers were followed by protests only from some of their own parishioners. There has been no groundswell of protest on an archdiocesan scale against the realignment plan and its conclusions. The customary watchdogs, clergy and lay, over archdiocesan policies and decisions to insure transparency and local lay participation have been noticeably silent or have endorsed the realignment process.

It came as a surprise to many that a Boston “Council of Parishes” and then the Voice of the Faithful, NY quickly joined in the protest at the closing of Our Lady Queen of Angels. As one who has had a VOTF bumper sticker on my car, has addressed a number of VOTF affiliates in New York and Connecticut, and has sought to bring clergy and laity into the VOTF camp, I was dismayed. Do the Bostonians and the VOTF object to the idea of applying resources in accordance with need? Or do they wish to design the process themselves? Our Lady Queen of Angels has no territorial boundaries. It is a national parish established in 1886 for German-speaking persons, certainly no longer to be found in East Harlem. Queen of Angels at 232 East 113th Street has as neighbors St. Ann’s at 312 East 110th Street and Our Lady of Mount Carmel at 448 East 116th Street? Look closely at these addresses. The total of Sunday Mass attendees hardly warrants these three churches in such close proximity. Not too far away is St. Cecilia’s Church at 124 East 106th Street. The local Latino community remains well served even after the closing of Queen of Angels.

The VOTF has as its admirable goals the support of victims of clergy sexual abuse, support of priests of integrity, and the shaping of structural reform in the Church. Its press release, about participating in the protest, states its commitment to greater transparency and accountability in the Church. Despite the customary lack of these qualities on the part of far too many bishops in establishing policies and programs, careful examination of the record and conversations with participants will show that, at least in this instance, there has been ongoing openness and participation of the faithful in the process. The press release also states that the faithful had lost trust in their bishops. It should be noted that Boston, the epicenter of the abuse crisis, is where the VOTF was founded and where the participating “Council of Parishes” is located. New York is not Boston. It has not experienced the trauma and loss of trust that Boston has. In its vastly different context, New York has acted wisely in closing Queen of Angels and entrusting its parishioners to St. Ann’s and Our Lady of Mount Carmel, each just a few blocks away.

Msgr. Harry J. Byrne February 18, 2007