"We will protect them against the depredations of our appointed bishops"
The Archdiocese of New Orleans announced he was closing Our Lady of Good Counsel, then changed the date, then changed the date again. For this distant observer, these actions look like they're taken to keep the parishioners (not the congregation) off-guard so the church can be shut down with as little drama as possible. Further, without commenting on the politics of a church I'm not part of and a situation I know very little about, I am curious about how the separation of Church and State plays into this with a secular court providing a legal definition of a religious congregation.
Poppy Z. Brite:
Yes, you read that right: the people who comprise the church congregation are not members of the church congregation.
Parishioners occupying two Catholic churches in defiance of closure orders from the Archdiocese of New Orleans began laying plans Monday to live there in shifts -- in one case after parishioners apparently played cat and mouse with archdiocesan officials who thought they had locked them out.
At the end of the day, parishioners at St. Henry and Our Lady of Good Counsel were inside their churches and organizing to remain.
In addition, parishioners from both communities met Monday night with Peter Borré, a Boston energy consultant who has been involved in Boston parishes' resistance to a wave of parish closings Cardinal Sean O'Malley ordered in 2004.
Five parishes there have been occupied around the clock -- or under "vigil" -- for four years.
In an interview earlier Monday, Borré said he would urge New Orleans parishioners to resist the closings with occupations, in part because "these vigils are the only thing these bishops understand."
Later, he told a group of two dozen St. Henry parishioners that Boston parishes are being occupied by traditional, mainstream Catholics who are finding their faith enriched in the struggle.
"Here in Catholic America, some people are standing up and saying these are our parishes, and we will protect them against the depredations of our appointed bishops," he told the group.
Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese explained to church members, four of whom brought a civil suit to court to try to stop their church's closing, that they were in fact not members of the legal congregation. Under the legal definition, the congregation includes the archbishop, his vicar general, OLGC's pastor, the Rev. Pat Collum, and two (empty) layman seats.
For members like Fortier - who attended the Tuesday morning ruling - the decision was tough to take.
"As members of this congregation, we are third-body members of this church," Fortier said. "It's like all they want is money in the basket. What other purpose is there for the people, then?"
As of now, the OLGC occupation timeline remains open ended. Church members plan to fill three-hour slots during the day and longer hours for all-night vigils indefinitely. A set of pillows and blankets sit folded at the front of the church, presumably for the night-time occupants.
"If we were a dead parish, we wouldn't have people signing up for this," she said. "We'll be here until the archbishop is willing to talk to us."
A Statement from Most Reverend Alfred C. Hughes, Archbishop of New Orleans:
Let me remind you now, that the buildings of the former parishes of Our Lady of Good Counsel and St. Henry are no longer parish churches. The parishes are closed and the new parish church is at St. Stephen’s. Therefore, with the exception of three weddings scheduled for early November, one at St. Henry and two at Our Lady of Good Counsel, no celebration of the Eucharist or celebration of sacraments of any kind or any liturgical services should take place in those former church buildings. Any clergy that celebrates or contributes to the celebration of the sacraments there will face serious canonical implications.
On a personal note, I must point out that the Archbishop's press release uses the two spaces after a period abomination. Until the Catholic church rectifies this soul-damaging error, I cannot be on their side.