Historic district won't help church's future
December 07, 2009 Springfield’s Historical Commission erred last week when it recommended that the City Council create a historic district to save Our Lady of Hope Church.
Please don’t get us wrong. Hungry Hill without Our Lady of Hope Church is inconceivable. The neighborhood and the church have walked arm–in–arm for so long that it would be a tragedy – perhaps a travesty – to demolish or drastically alter a building that has served as a spiritual home and symbol for thousands of people.
But we also recognize that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield cannot live on spiritual symbols alone. Faced with changing demographics and a drop in priests and nuns, church officials decided to close Our Lady of Hope along with several other churches in the region.
The decision was painful, but necessary. And now that the diocese will have to dispose of the building, we believe the diocese – not the City Council – has the unquestioned right to deal with the situation.
A historic district would unfairly tie the diocese’s hands and prevent it from carrying out its overall mission. It could not stop the diocese from closing or selling the church, but the Historical Commission would have to sign off on the building’s demolition or exterior alterations. That could violate the religious freedom clause of the First Amendment.
Although the parishes are the bedrock of the church in Western Massachusetts, they are not its only mission. The diocese oversees a variety of charitable missions that require financial and administrative support.
We believe the diocese and parishioners should sit down and devise a practical plan for the building’s future. A historic district will only place an adversarial roadblock in a situation that calls for cooperation.
We hope Our Lady of Hope Church is standing 100 years from now, but we do think it’s the diocese’s right to carry out its mission. We would hate to see the church wind up like the old Hampden County Jail. It was unused, dilapidated and, in the end, most folks were glad to see it go. Our Lady of Hope Church deserves a better fate.
This editorial is heartfelt and would give an open minded person pause if the organization in question was well-connected to basic human values, including historic preservation, was open to dialogue with its members, and was proven to be aboveboard in its financial dealings.
The Diocese of Springfield has shown time and time again that it is none of these things. They think they are above the law - and this is not just an analogy - they really do think they are above the law, and have said so on too many occasions to count. Because of this obstinacy, stronger medicine is called for, and the historic district may not be perfect, but it may at least slow them down.
Such commonly-felt virtues as respect for historic structures means nothing to the Elliot St. crowd, who, we must remember, were kept on-board to a man when McDonnell replaced Dupre. The self-interest of the Corporation seems to be all-encompassing. Nor do they appear to be interested in what their members, who are rightly described here as the bedrock, think and feel and say. Free speech within the Catholic church, for dues-paying members, simply does not exist.
I realize that these are strong statements, but there can be no other explanation for why officials have tried to pass off the Pastoral Planning process as "representative", "fair and transparent" and so on when every Catholic with a brain understands full well that hand-picking representatives, limiting debate, conducting secret meetings, and dropping decrees on parishes like so many bombs conveys the opposite message.
My final theme, financial transparency, is the icing on the cake.
Most Catholics, even so-called devout Catholics, will be very surprised to hear that this Diocese, the one that has closed or altered beyond recognition 29 parishes in the last few years, has not even bothered to provide the most basic level of financial disclosure. They have not published annual reports for the last two fiscal years. Let me say that again: NO annual financial report for june 30, 2007 - june 30, 2008, and NO annual financial report for june 30, 2008 - june 30, 2009. The big question is: Why? I can think of many reasons, but none of them inspire the trust in the Diocese which this editorial writer is asking for.
With this background, the editorial writer should do a mea culpa and re-write this editorial. He or she should especially study that ever since the Mullin Report in March of 2007, the parishes of this Diocese have been put under a microscope; they have been chastised for not doing more, for not contributing more, for not being more, indeed, as if they have failed.....and in the very same time period, this Diocese could not even be bothered to put the most basic information out there for all to see about the larger picture, so that the cards are on the table.
In one word.....