St. Mary’s parishioners move forward with church consolidation appeal

Concurrent with the closure of their beloved church, parishioners of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Manayunk have announced their plans to continue their appeal of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s decision to merge their congregation with those of two nearby parishes.

As reported by NewsWorks, Sunday was the final day of worship for St. Mary’s, the result of determinations made by the Archdiocese’s Pastoral Planning Initiative, which began in 2011.

The St. Mary of the Assumption Appeal Committee was formed in April of 2012 as a response to the decision of the leadership of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to close St. Mary’s and incorporate its members – along with those of nearby St. Josaphat’s Parish – into the parish of St. John the Baptist.

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Their first task, completed by the Appeal Committee on April 23, was to retain the services of Peter Borre, a Boston-based activist who gained national attention in March for successfully overturning the closure of 13 parishes in Cleveland.

That same day, a Remonstratio – an appeal asking that the closure of the parish not occur as planned – was sent to the office of Archbishop Charles Chaput, according to a release by the Appeals Committee.

This appeal was signed by five parishioners of St. Mary’s and was denied.

The Appeal Committee completed the next step in the appeal process in May, sending a short form appeal to Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy.

The next step in the appeal process is for canon lawyers Carlo & Alessia Gullo, whose services have been retained by the Appeal Committee, to compose and submit a long form appeal to Archbishop Piacenza. This will be completed in the coming months.

It is anticipated that it will take a year to a year and a half for Archbishop Piacenza to render a decision regarding their appeal.

$13,000 in donations

Gus Concillio, former operations manager for St. Mary’s and a leader of the Appeal Committee, said backing within the parish has been strong, with 200 parishioners expressing support, 30 to 50 of whom are actively involved.

“A certain percentage feels that we should move on,” said Concillio, “but some are quite active, and feel that we should give the appeal every last chance.”

He related that between 70 and 100 unique donations have been made to their efforts, resulting in approximately $13,000 being raised in less than six weeks – “with no trouble at all,” he noted.

This money will fund the canonical appeals, and will afford St. Mary’s additional time, as the church cannot be sold or deconsecrated while an appeal is active.

Should these efforts be unsuccessful, there is one final step in the process – an appeal to the Apostolic Signatura, which serves as the Vatican’s Supreme Court.

Asked if there has been any resistance from the Archdiocese in regard to their continuing appeal, Concillio said he is not aware of any.

“They think it’s a waste of time,” he said, “but we’re welcome to go through with it.”

Asked for a statement about parish closure appeals, Kenneth Gavin, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, observed that while immediate pain and grief exists, the mergers are designed to ensure a strong local Catholic Church be present for future generations.

Gavin explained that the decisions were designed to be as collaborative as possible and incorporated leadership from the individual parish communities.

“Careful thought and consideration was given to numerous options so that the most viable path for the future could be chosen,” he said.

However, Gavin said that any party wishing to submit an appeal is free to do so. Information regarding the canonical appeal process has been made available to all affected parish communities.

While recognizing that the link to their parish community is part of the identity of many Catholics, Gavin said, “The hope is that the end result will be revitalized parishes in all five counties that will be best equipped to meet the spiritual and pastoral needs of future generations.”

Supporting the parishioners

Throughout the process, Concillio said that St. Mary’s former pastor, Rev. Charles Zlock, was supportive.

In an earlier statement to NewsWorks, Zlock said the Appeal Committee has “gone about discussing some very difficult issues and accomplished their respective tasks in a transparent, respectful and professional manner.”

Noting the delicateness of the situation, Zlock said on Sunday that he limited his participation to announcements from the pulpit, the church’s bulletin, and St. Mary’s website.

“It was a matter of finding out how I could support my parishioners and their canonical rights, supporting them knowing I was being transferred to a new assignment, would not be around long term and, therefore, probably should not become directly involved,” he said.

A sense of hope and identity

While the wheels of the Vatican’s judiciary turn slowly – the decisions in Cleveland, announced in March, were initially filed in 2009 and 2010 – the appeal will give some St. Mary’s parishioners hope, and a continued sense of identity.

“The appeal has allowed them a rallying point, and not get lost in the merger with St. John’s,” said Concillio. “It helps with closure.”

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