Vatican upholds bishop’s decision to relegate church building to secular use

FALL RIVER, Mass. — The Fall River Diocese has received notification of the decision by the Vatican’s Apostolic Signatura on the appeal made against the Sept. 6, 2013 Decree by Bishop George W. Coleman relegating St. John the Baptist Church in New Bedford to profane but not sordid use. The Apostolic Signatura has upheld Bishop Coleman’s issuance of the Decree and rejected the appeal. The Apostolic Signatura is the highest judicial authority within the Catholic Church.

“Relegation to profane use” is a term used in Church law when a Church building will no longer be used for Catholic Liturgical worship.

Five individuals who were parishioners of St. John the Baptist Parish brought their initial appeal against the Decree to the Congregation for Clergy, the appropriate Dicastery (or department) of the Roman Curia for such appeals. Earlier this year the Congregation for Clergy affirmed the bishop’s decision to issue the Decree. The petitioners then appealed the decision to the Apostolic Signatura to which this recent ruling is in response. 

No decision has been made with regard to any secular use of the building going forward. Church law prohibits such action while an appeal of the Decree of relegation to non-Sacred use is in process.

Separate from this was another appeal brought by the same individuals against the decision by Bishop Coleman to suppress St. John the Baptist Parish and unite it with Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in New Bedford. This appeal was made to three successive levels of judicial review, the Congregation for Clergy, the Apostolic Signatura and, ultimately, the Congresso of the Apostolic Signatura. The bishop’s decision was upheld at each level. As the Congresso decree of March 27, 2014 states, “This decree, which is not subject to any further challenge, has been communicated to the respective procurator-advocates of the parties for all legal effect.”

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