Absolutely Elliot St.

UPDATE: please note correction: the day of the prayer service is Friday, Dec. 23.

There are two critical events happening this week, one sponsored by the ostensibly absolute rulers on Elliot St., and one by the community of the People of God at Mater Dolorosa, 71 Maple St., Holyoke. It's hard to decide which is more important.
 On Dec. 23, Friday night at 6:30 p.m., there will be a prayer service at Mater Dolorosa, with organist Jeff Chirgwin. Special features are traditional Oplatek Polish blessings, Polish and English Christmas carols, and nonperishable food items collected for Kate's Kitchen. The event is  organized by passionate supporters of the church, who seek prayer and support in their struggle to keep the doors of the church open.
Pretty much the opposite will be happening on Wednesday, Dec. 28 at 2:00 in the afternoon. Diocesan law firm Egan, Flanagan & Cohen, P.C., will be representing the Bishop in an equally enthusiastic attempt to throw the parishioners out via motion for summary judgement for trespass. The hearing will take place at Hampden County Superior Court (Hall of Justice), at 2:00 on the 2nd or 3rd floor of 50 State St., Springfield.
If it's true that lay participation in governance and clerical enforcement of the status quo are at opposite ends of the spectrum, we need to ask: how did we get here? 
How did the People of God, a small cluster of fisherman, tax collectors, prostitutes, and generally, the unwashed, (albeit with a few well-off widows thrown in), led by a visionary carpenter's son, evolve into a corporation that willingly and even eagerly uses all of the tools of political discourse to enforce their will on those not of our faith; who are willing to wield civil law like a hammer, and not just against supposed "enemies" such as the media, abuse victims, bike path advocates and historical commissions, but also, almost unbelievably, against their own people, the ones who give the widow's mite (giving from their necessity, not from their excess), and who give freely, generously, unendingly, so that the corporation has the necessary funds with which to prosecute them in court?
Big question, but we must not be afraid to tackle it. 
In the big picture it would seem that the centuries-old doctrine that the Catholic church is the one true church, bar none, to the exclusion and even the damnation of others, and the resulting emphasis on an "absolute" point of view (though overturned by changes in theology around the middle of the 20th century) exerts a powerful undertow. Much as they would deny it, many of the current hierarchy (and not a few lay people) still think of Catholicism as the one true religion and others as off-brands, and even disreputable. It is an article of faith for these believers that other religions must be judged unreasonable, as well as incompatible, simply because they are not Catholic. They have no standing, and never will. 
But, don't the claims of the world's other religions, which are strikingly similar in their moral make-up, practices and outlook, overlap with ours in any significant way? Nope, the die-harders would say. "Of course," they would say, "we have to play nice with others, and we do, but only as an accommodation, not because it is the ideal. In an ideal world, everyone would be Catholic. Because truth and Catholicism are one and the same." 
Now, how much of a leap is it to apply this same thinking of "The One Way" to the strategies and political programs dominating Elliot St.? Has it not been repeatedly pointed out by McDonnell, Dupont, Pomerleau, and Egan (with LaBroad, Liston and others in the background) how much better it would be if the misled and uninformed parishioners at Mater Dolorosa (and at St. Stan's, and at dozens of other protesting parishes) just did what they were told to do in the first place? In short, if they simply obeyed?
This rigid stance of the One True Whatever has the advantage of appearing impeccable to its adherents. It also offers simplicity in a complex world — a world of give and take, of shortfalls in time, money, and in the resultant need for dialog and even compromise. But dialog and compromise are defeats, for the true believer, because they are less than the Ultimate Good. The transcendent worth of the unfixed position can easily blind the adherents to less noble impulses — such as the lust for power. Belief in the One True Whatever easily justifies an entire system of control, persuasion, and rhetoric — and, failing that, legal action. Don't think for one moment that Bishop McDonnell deplores legal action. It's just one more tool in his kit. Having said that, he would rather persuade, and to this end, pastors in pulpits are good at working chancery positions into their sermons. These attacks are deployed on anything that stands in the way of what the adherents believe the absolute truth demands. 
There are many issues that illustrate how this absolutism affects the Springfield Diocese, but one of the most egregious is the legal memorandum that John Egan and Co. filed on Oct. 11. This was reported several weeks later by Fr. Bill Pomerleau on the diocesan web site:
"Egan’s lawsuit is pressing the court to rule on the underlying issue of the church occupation: whether the Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield (RC) has a right to dispose of its property as it sees fit..........Egan’s memorandum of law accompanying his motion states that in Massachusetts, Catholic dioceses are recognized civilly as corporations sole controlled by the incumbent bishop."
In the first place, here's a fact check: NO property in the Diocese belongs to the RCB, to Bishop McDonnell personally, or to anyone other than the people of the Diocese. Pomerleau knows this, but apparently he's forgotten. The notion that the Massachusetts dioceses are "corporations sole controlled by the incumbent bishop" is equally false. The reverse is true. Corporation sole was created in 1897 for an entirely different purpose, as we shall see. Again, Pomerleau should know this, not only as a priest, but as an aspiring journalist.
What is truly different about the last few months is that when the word came down from Rome about what should be done with St. Stan's, St. George's and St. Patrick (find a use for them), this was promptly vetoed by Bishop McDonnell. One could almost hear the conversation on Elliot St.: "who do these people in Rome think they are?"  As was observed by Peter Borre, in remarks to the Associated Press:
 "What is new is the die-hard attitude of the diocese of Springfield -- signaling that they will continue their illogical policy of passive resistance, because the Vatican `does not require that these church buildings be reopened,'" Borre said in an emailed statement. "What is the logic of Catholic churches that are locked and CLOSED to Catholic worship?"
No one from Elliot St. has answered this question.
Back to Pomerleau: when he says that Bishop McDonnell should be able to dispose of his property as he seems fit, and that he "controls" the Diocese, he opens the door to a host of counter-arguments. Some are civil, some canonical.

Based on the groundswell of recorded opposition to the parish-killing programs of the Diocese, it is easy to find evidence that the process was flawed, and that these flaws affect the validity of the suggestions made by the Pastoral Planning committee to McDonnell. This is because these suggestions cannot represent in any reasoned and representative way the will of the laity. In fact if you take the trouble to read the final document of Pastoral Planning, it reads from start to finish like an elaborate evasion. There are no minutes; no historical progression; no discussions; no names; and no guts. It is a conclusory document which reads like it was spun from thin air by one man on a word-processor in an office cubicle, and for all we know, it was.
Without a willing collaboration of the laity, the decisions of the Bishop fail as a matter of canon law. This is because Bishop McDonnell is an administrator, and not just a "decider" as Pomerleau and others would have it.
Pomerleau is also wrong on the civil side. Corporation sole does not mean that assets are "controlled" by the bishop. On the contrary, the law creating corporation sole makes it clear that it is the Catholic people, not the bishop, that are the beneficiaries of the property and other assets of the church (most especially, their own monetary contributions, which they have a right to confirm were used for the right reasons). The bishop is the trustee, and the Catholic people are the beneficiaries. It's not complicated.

Corporation sole also gave the Commonwealth power to examine the books of the Catholic church on an annual basis to be sure they're in order, and it also made the diocese subject to all limitations of any other corporation within the Commonwealth. Thus, far from giving the Diocese a legal license to find and punish people and entities that disagree with an absolute drive for power, corporation sole was created for an entirely different purpose: to give the Catholic people and the citizens of the Commonwealth reasonable methods of examining and regulating the activities of the officials of the Catholic church.
In the new year we will examine three significant newspaper articles about the creation of corporate sole dating from around 1898 or so. Contemporary quotes from legislators, both advocates and foes of the idea of corporate sole (and, why it was felt necessary in the first place) provide some much-needed context. These help explain the misstatements of Pomerleau and Egan, though they do not excuse them.
My Christmas wish is that as many Catholic people as possible attend both the court hearing on Dec. 28 and the prayer service on Dec. 23. They are worthy of our attention.