The Allentown Diocese on Friday announced that six suppressed churches, including one in Carbon County, three in Schuylkill, and two in Northampton, may open for limited religious services.
The churches are St. Michael in Tresckow, Carbon County; St. Francis of Assisi in Minersville, Immaculate Conception in St. Clair, and Mary, Queen of Peace in Pottsville, Schuylkill County; and St. Roch in West Bangor and St. Joseph in Bethlehem, both in Northampton County.
However, said diocese spokesman Matt Kerr, the churches remain suppressed.
"In keeping with a response from the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy that six of the 47 churches closed by the Diocese of Allentown in July 2008 'retain the canonical status of a church dedicated to divine worship', the Diocese has agreed there will be some worship at those churches. This in no way changes the fact that the six parishes remain suppressed," Kerr said in a press release issued Friday afternoon.
As of Dec. 1, the churches will be permitted to host funeral Masses for former parishioners and a Mass on the patronal feast of that church, he said.
The announcement "is in keeping with the wording of the Vatican letter that some form of divine worship actually take place within the six churches but leaves decisions about the type and frequency of that worship to the discretion of what the congregation called "the competent authority" locally, Kerr said.
"The Vatican response, received by the diocese this week, was described in the letter as an attempt by the Congregation for Clergy to resolve controversies that arose surrounding decrees issued earlier this year. Those decrees upheld the diocese's decision to merge and consolidate parishes but held that some of the church buildings remained sacred space," he said.
The diocese, under then-Bishop Edward Cullin, on May 29, 2008 announced it would close 47 of its 151 parishes in anticipation of a shortage of priests. The order left some towns, including Coaldale, without any Roman Catholic churches.
Fourteen parishes appealed the suppression to the Vatican, among them Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Nesquehoning. The Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy in January issued a vaguely-worded ruling, which the Mt. Carmel group interpreted as indicating the church could remain open.
In March, the diocese said that in nine of the 14 cases, including Mt. Carmel, the Vatican ruled the church buildings should retain their sacred status where some form of divine worship is to be held. However, this latest announcement from the diocese does not address Mt. Carmel.
Many of the closed churches have been sold; most have been stripped of their religious artifacts. Some of those, including stained glass windows, are being auctioned online by a Philadelphia firm.