Spirit Daily


Link Between Statue Phenomena And Church Closings Raises Deep Questions

A statue falls by itself (allegedly) after the last Mass at a church that is closing in Boston.

How to interpret that?

That was in October. Last winter, at another church in that same area that ended up shutting its doors, a Madonna had wept before the announcement was made by Archbishop Sean O'Malley. What did that mean?

These are important questions for our good bishops (and Archbishop Sean O'Malley of Boston is a good bishop) to consider. Never mind whether they are actual miracles: too many witnessed that falling statue for it to have been a hoax. And there are far, far too many weeping statues for all of them to be legerdemain. At least some may be connected with churches -- 82 in Boston alone! -- that are closing as dioceses downsize.

Usually weeping statues are interpreted as signs of Heaven's concern for the entire world: abortion, morality, war. And no doubt, these are the prime candidates.

But the specificity of statues reacting in the way they have  in Boston -- so in parallel with Church actions -- brings up the real possibility that many of the weeping statues have been indicating not problems in the world but in the Church itself.

The statue that toppled did so in October at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in East Boston -- right after the final Mass! No one had touched it when it fell in the 99-year-old building by no discernible force of nature.

The fall caused a crack on the back of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and broke the finger of the Christ Child.

It also caused a group to begin protesting the closure. "When she went down, I said, 'Let's fight for the church,''' related parishioner Carolena Lyons. "They sent a bishop who told us it is just bricks and concrete and stone, but it's still a church to us.''

How right she is: A church is always a church, always a place where the Blessed Sacrament has resided, where it has been transubstantiated into the True Presence, where the bricks themselves have been consecrated. It is not just bricks; it is a "place of situation" for the Holy Spirit. You do not want a church turned into a museum or a condo or a warehouse. It's too much like what they did in Soviet Russia.

And as a result there may be a little revolution in the offing. Laymen are acting. They want more say. They want input before churches are shut down around them. Eight Catholic churches in the Boston archdiocese are seeing sit-ins, or round-the-clock vigils, and two more parishes are threatening occupations to block scheduled closings.

It could turn out to be serious business as more churches are closed in more dioceses -- sometimes because of a shortage of priests, sometimes because the inner cities are simply emptying of Catholics, sometimes the dioceses have been sapped of funds due to the sex-abuse scandals.

More than 90 percent of the parishioners at St. Jeremiah's, another Boston church set for closing, want to appeal the decision to close that parish, but some say no amount of effort will reverse the decision.

The same is true in the New York area -- where parishioners have started to organize, fearing similar closures.

Is this the start of a national movement?

We urge obedience. We also urge bishops to listen more to the laity, which feels so left out. Despite decisions by the bishops' National Review Board, which has recommended greater lay knowledge of things like diocesan finance, only 53 percent of surveyed Catholics say they have "an adequate understanding of how their donations to the church are used" and (with all due reverence) 75 percent of surveyed Catholics want their bishops to be more accountable.

It is time for the bishops to heed these feelings, these signs of potential future turmoil.

In some cases perhaps laymen can raise the money to buy a church, maintain it as a place of prayer, and keep it under diocesan purview.

This we strongly suggest. With more lay involvement (in simple care-taking for a church), it can remain a holy place -- at least a place of prayer.

In our view, no consecrated ground should be ceded to the enemy.

But back to the question: Does Mary cry because of what led to the decision -- the priest shortage, the scandals, the lack of attendees in inner cities -- or the decision itself?

With all due obedience, it is time for soul-searching -- far more soul-searching -- at the level of the episcopate. At the moment, the Church is far too bureaucratic and worldly. This worldliness has invited in scandal.

Kudos to the bishops for helping to sway the last election toward the issue of morality. There was a lot of courage shown. The pro-life issue was to the fore. But now we must look inwardly. Does a statue fall because of the shortage of priests, or  because no matter what the crisis, Heaven wants that church left open?

Nov 10 2004


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