I was surprised to find that a situation very near to home had attracted some attention from the wider community of American Catholics. (Look Ma!!) The Closed Cafeteria kindly linked to the Newsday article on the matter.
Deputies remove protesters from Catholic church slated to close
SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Deputies had to remove a group of parishioners from an upstate New York Roman Catholic church where they had been holding a vigil for the past seven months to protest the church's closing.
The Syracuse Roman Catholic Diocese last spring identified St. Mary's Church in Jamesville as one of 40 churches it planned to close in a massive diocesan restructuring driven by a decline in the number of clergy and demographic shifts from urban to suburban areas.
Restructuring, unfortunately, is just part of the landscape these days. In some areas, such as the diocese of Syracuse, demographic shifts only exacerbate the problem. St. Mary's isn't particularly far away from the city or its larger suburbs. If the population had continued to grow and spread out through to the present day, this might not have been an issue. But it seems that the growth of the Syracuse area was over-estimated; things didn't work out that way. More and more jobs continue to leave the area, and opportunities for businesses just aren't there.
But St. Mary's parishioners vowed to fight the closing.
Parishioners appealed to the Vatican, as did two other Syracuse area churches. The groups said they were not included in the decision-making process and the closings deprived them of a vibrant faith community.
The Vatican appeal was not an enterprise directed towards success. The canonical forms and procedures had been followed with all propriety during the whole process, both by His Excellency Bishop Moynihan and by Msgr. Yeazel of Holy Cross, who is pastor there and administered St. Mary's before the closing. The Holy See would not reverse the decision of the ordinary in matters like this. The best analogy to be found would be in the chain of command. In addition, the vast majority of the parishoners of St. Mary's came over to Holy Cross or other local churches without undue protest. Naturally, they were sad to have left their church, and who wouldn't be? I'm sure a great many of them, like anyone else, would have asked tacitly or flat out "Couldn't you have closed someone else's church?" So far as it goes, that is a natural reaction to the situation. But in the end, their priorities were in order. The Church is a whole lot bigger than a church.
Since July, about 100 volunteers have taken turns staying in the church, maintaining a 24-hour presence. The group recited the rosary together regularly.
Syracuse Bishop James Moynihan made it clear to the group that their round-the-clock vigil was unauthorized, but he allowed it to continue until Wednesday. Moynihan said he was prompted to take action after recently learning that someone had brought Communion to the church and the group was holding prayer services there.
"It crossed the line," said Monsignor Robert Yeazel, the former pastor of St. Mary who now serves at Holy Cross Church. "The bishop ordered it closed. It's time."
The small group at the church Wednesday left without resistance. Moynihan and Yeazel accompanied the deputies.
I had heard differing numbers for the vigil-holders, but never as much as 100. I know for a fact that there was only a very small number from St. Mary's participating in it, so this leaves a few interesting questions. Where did these other people come from? Why were they there? Well, I suppose I shan't be able to find out now. But here's the reason I ask: a few of the leaders of this vigil and the whole protest in general were noted anti-clerical types. When listening sessions were held by the Holy Cross priests, when planning the new church at HC and also discussing the future of St. Mary's, these fellows were heard saying all kinds of lovely things about how priests really work. If there's anyone still reading this, I'm sure they know the sort.
The communion part is also interesting. I had heard it mentioned, though not confirmed, that the people still staying in the church were not attending Mass, as a priest was obviously no longer at St. Mary's. This really throws the problem of the vigil into sharp relief: if you refuse to participate in the Sacraments over the closing of a building, there's a problem. Yes, we've said already that the closing of a church is not a pleasant affair for anyone. But participation in the Sacraments and the Liturgy is the cornerstone of Catholic life. As St. Benedict said, "Nothing is to be preferred to the work of God" (though he was referring to the Officium Divinum, the principle still stands)
The final comment, about this situation turning people away from the Church is the frustrating one. Given all the Church teaches about salvation, how it is attained, what one must do to be in a right relationship with God and mankind, what one's duties are as a Christian, it seems downright foolish to place such a high value on a building. Simply put, it isn't worth your immortal soul. To be turned away from the promises of life everlasting and the beatific vision over an ephemeral event such as this demonstrates a certain lack of faith which I think is problematic if extant in the wider Catholic population.
Anywho, that's my two cents on the matter.