Vatican rules in favor of Diocese of Fall River regarding St. John the Baptist Parish in New Bedford

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FALL RIVER, Mass. — The Diocese of Fall River received notification of the decision by the Apostolic Signatura regarding the closing of Saint John the Baptist Parish in New Bedford. The Most Reverend George W. Coleman was notified in a letter dated April 11, 2014 from Archbishop Frans Daneels, O.Praem., the Secretary of the Apostolic Signatura, that the Congresso of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura decided in favor of Bishop Coleman’s decision to suppress Saint John the Baptist Parish and unite it with Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in New Bedford. This is the highest level that an appeal can be made in Rome for a decision like this, and as Archbishop Daneels states in the letter “this decree, … is not subject to any further challenge.”

The decision to merge Saint John the Baptist Parish with Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish was made only after a process which extended over several years which included hearing from parishioners and from members of the Presbyteral Council. Bishop Coleman issued the decree on November 4, 2012.

Five individuals who were parishioners of Saint John the Baptist appealed Bishop Coleman’s decision to the Congregation for Clergy, the competent Dicastery (or department) of the Roman Curia to hear such appeals. Bishop Coleman was notified by a Decree issued by His Eminence Mauro Cardinal Piacenza, the then Prefect to the Congregation for Clergy, that the Petitioners’ appeal was rejected. The date of that Decree was July 12, 2013.

The five parishioners then appealed this decision to the Apostolic Signatura, the next level to receive such appeals. Bishop Coleman was notified by Archbishop Daneels on November 14, 2013, that the Apostolic Signatura had rejected this appeal. The last step that these parishioners could take was to make the appeal to the Congresso of the Apostolic Signatura. The Congresso meets only twice a year, and it was on April 11, 2014 that Bishop Coleman was notified that this final appeal was rejected. The notification was received at the Bishop’s Office on April 28, 2014. 

On a related issue, Bishop Coleman issued a Decree relegating Saint John the Baptist Church in New Bedford to profane but not sordid use on September 6, 2013. “Relegation to profane use” is a term used in Church law when a Church building will no longer be used for Catholic Liturgical worship. The same five individuals appealed that decision to the Congregation for Clergy, the appropriate Dicastery in the Curia for such appeals. Bishop Coleman was notified in a letter dated March 29, 2014 from His Eminence Beniamino Cardinal Stella, the current Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, that the Congregation upheld Bishop Coleman’s decision and rejected the appeal from the five parishioners. These five individuals have now appealed this decision to the Apostolic Signatura, the next level to receive such appeals. We will await that decision.

Bishop Coleman has stated several times that this was a difficult decision to make, but it was one that had to be made to strengthen the ministry to the Portuguese people in the South End of New Bedford. He is grateful to know that the officials in Rome have upheld his decision.

© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts