The Vatican Congregation for the Clergy has rejected an appeal from parishioners of the former Our Lady Of Mount Carmel Catholic Church, Nesquehoning, of the Allentown Diocese' 2008 decision to suppress the parish, folding it into the newly created St. Francis of Assisi.
However,parishioners, who said they intend to appeal the suppression of their parish, believe the Congregation's decree, received Tuesday, also keeps the church open for religious use.
"We believe this is a win, at least partially," said parishioner Felicia Pilla.
"We've always believed the church was sacred and should be kept that way," said parishioner Joe Fauzio. "Now, we've got it in writing."
Diocese spokesman Matt Kerr did not speak to the matter, saying only that "as of this time, the diocese has not received any word from the Vatican on this case. Until that happens, and the diocese can review and evaluate the decree, we cannot comment."
Pilla and Fauzio point to the last two paragraphs of the decree to support their belief that the Congregation determined that the church building itself should remain a sacred structure, that the diocese cannot close it.
"They have to have it as a building for sacred purposes, because they were directed directly from Rome," Pilla said.
It states: "The Congregation hereby decrees that this petition for recourse as presented, with regard to the merger of the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel does not have canonical basis in law and in fact and is rejected de procedendo and de decernendo.
"The Congregation further decrees that this petition for recourse as presented, with regard to the reduction of the church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to secular but not unbecoming use does not have canonical basis in law and in fact and is likewise rejected de procedendo but upheld de decernendo."
De procedendo refers to procedural merits while de decernendo refers to determination of facts. The parishioners base their belief that the phrase "but upheld de decernendo" in the decree means that the church should be kept open for religious use.
It has yet to be determined how the church, at Angelini and Garibalidi avenues, would be used. One possibility is that it would house both the Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the St. Francis of Assisi parishes.
The four-page Congregation for the Clergy decree was signed on Dec. 22 by Prefect Mauro Cardinal Piacenza and Under-Secretary Monsignor Celso Morga Iruzubieta. Parishioners have 60 days to appeal the suppression of the parish to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura – which, apart from the Pope, is the highest judicial authority in the church.
The appeal is a given, said Pilla.
"We started this, so we're going to finish it," she said. "We've prepared for that. We have a committee, we meet every Wednesday. We've had fundraisers. We knew at the very beginning that you needed money to go, not to the Congregation for the Clergy so much, but to go to the Signatura."
The parishioners' journey began on May 29, 2008, when then-Bishop Edward Cullin issued a decree closing 47 of the diocese's 151 parishes, to be merged or consolidated, because the diocese expects a shortage of priests. At a special convocation on Feb. 28, 2007, priests learned about the projected reduction in their numbers, from 129 to 111 by June 30, 2010. In July, Kerr said 111 priests currently serve in the diocese.
Cullin's decree suppressed the parishes of the closed churches, transferring their members, assets, records and liabilities to the newly-created parishes. Nine parishes remain in Carbon County; 31 in Schuylkill. The closed churches have been stripped of their religious items and placed for sale and on the property tax rolls.
In Nesquehoning, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Sacred Heart and Immaculate Conception parishes were folded into the new St. Francis of Assisi, housed in the former Immaculate Conception church.
The Our Lady of Mount Carmel parishioners on June 18, 2008, asked Cullin to reconsider. On July 1, 2008, Cullin announced he would refuse to revoke the decree.
On July 21, 2008, the parishioners appealed to the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy.
Meanwhile, Bishop Cullin retired and the Most Reverend John Barres became bishop. Barres upheld Cullin's decree.
The group is sailing uncharted waters in its efforts to keep Our Lady of Mount Carmel open for worship. Its members waited for the decree, and prayed.
"The waiting was hard," said Pilla. "At times, people were really discouraged. But we tried to keep things going. We always went every Wednesday for prayer service. There was no priest or anything, but we said the Rosary."
The group, OLMC Inc., gathered first at the grotto at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. After that was closed off, they met, and continue to meet, at the New Columbus Fire Company to pray. The group has a central committee of seven people and a general membership of about 160, Fauzio said.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel was founded in 1913 as an Italian parish. the church was known for its annual Shower of Roses festival in honor of St. Therese. The festival, held on the first Sunday of each October, featured the "shower" of thousands of roses dropped from a helicopter.