It's back to the Vatican for the Catholic Diocese of Allentown, which announced this week it is in "search of clarity" concerning recent rulings on the appeals filed by members of parishes that had been closed with the 2008 restructuring of churches in the five-county area.
In a news release, the diocese said it has asked the Apostolic Signatura (considered to be the Vatican Supreme Court) to advise the diocese as to whether or not churches should be reopened for sacred worship while the appeals are being heard, or should they remain closed.
Regarding one Carbon County church – Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Nesquehoning – the diocese said its request to the Signatura does not include that particular church, which officials said "remains under study."
The diocese said in recent weeks the Vatican Congregation for Clergy issued rulings on appeals filed by members of 14 parishes closed in the restructuring process, claiming those rulings upheld the diocese's reasoning leading to its decision to supress the parishes and merge them into new parishes or consolidate them with existing parishes.
In Nesquehoning, the diocese merged Our Lady of Mount Carmel with Immaculate Conception and Sacred Heart churches, renaming the parish St. Francis of Assisi and basing it out of the Immaculate Conception building. Parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Carmel vehemently opposed the move and appealed the decision to the Vatican.
The diocese said that in nine of the 14 cases – including the Nesquehoning one – the Vatican ruled the church buildings should retain their sacred status where some form of divine worship is to be held.
Just what that means remains to be clarified, although in its release, the diocese contends, "In none of the nine decrees upholding the sacred nature of the churches does the Congregation require the re-establishment of the former parish life, Sunday Mass schedule or sacramental schedule."
The diocese, however, does admit, "Questions remain, however, about the church buildings that the Congregation ruled retain sacred status while the parishes are supressed." The press release continues, "What that means going forward is unclear to the diocese. The Congregation for Clergy based its decision to uphold the sacred nature of the churches based on a canon, which requires the diocesan bishop to present a 'grave cause' for closing a church building. The Congregation holds that the grave cause was not present even though the parish is supressed."
The diocese contends the Congregation's ruling "appears to be a new application of church law in this matter." It is officially seeking "clarity," or direction, concerning the following churches: Mary, Queen of Peace, Pottsville; St. Francis of Assisi, Minersville; St. Joseph, Bethlehem; St. Roch, West Bangor; Immaculate Conception, St. Clair; and St. Michael, Tresckow.
Meanwhile, what happens at Our Lady of Mount Carmel remains to be seen and is apprently pending while the diocese says its ruling "remains under study." The other two (of the nine) churches - St. Michael, Northampton, and St. Canicus, Mahanoy City - are already being used by their new parishes for weekday or occasional Masses and other acts of divine worship and are thus in compliance with the decree, the diocese says.
Five other churches of the 14 that closed did not have appeals filed by its parishioners and remain closed and/or consolidated. They include St. John Capistrano, Bethlehem; SS. Cyril and Methodius, Coaldale; St. Mary of the Assumption and St. Kunegunda, both of McAdoo; and Sacred Heart, New Philadelphia.