In so many areas of life, such as running a marathon, it is necessary at the outset to set expectations. Some people might say that setting expectations is another way of saying that you admit defeat before you even get started, but nothing could be further from the truth. Unless you are in fantastic shape, have done nothing but train, and are most likely below a certain age, you are probably not a contender for winning the Boston Marathon. Thus, if you go into the race not satisfying the criteria set out above which it is likely every Boston Marathon winner will have to meet, and you tell yourself that nothing short of taking first place will satisfy you, you will probably be crushed when you cross the finish line an hour after the victor, regardless of the fact that you finished the race. If however you accept the fact that your age, lack of time to train and physical condition make it unlikely that you will finish the marathon first, and instead shoot for finishing the race, crossing the finish line will likely give you a far greater sense of fulfillment. This second approach also makes far more sense when you think about the fact that many people don’t even qualify to run the Boston Marathon. if you have finished it you’ve already accomplished something. Some who begin the race unfortunately for one reason or another are not able to cross the finish line, so if you have successfully done that, you have much to be proud of. Thinking about contesting a closure order in this way is essential given the forces in this process that are completely beyond your control.
I am going to say something right now that may be difficult for you to hear, but that is none the less true. There is a good chance that your “parish” cannot be saved from closure. AGAIN, READ THAT CAREFULLY. I SAID “PARISH;” I DID NOT SAY CHURCH. As is made clear in the guidelines issued by the Congregation for the Clergy which I hope you took the time to read above (if you didn’t, STOP NOW AND GO BACK AND READ THEM,) diocesan ordinaries (bishops and archbishops) have wide latitude to open and close parishes as they see fit, if just causes for taking each action are present. Given that just causes are very easily found to be present in basically every parish that would justify the elimination of a parish (given the definition of just causation,) it is very easy, for better or worse, for a bishop or archbishop to find something which will justify his decision to eliminate a parish, if that is what he wishes to do. Based on the rulings which have come down since 2020 from the Congregation for the Clergy of the Holy See involving the elimination of parishes which I am aware of, the fact that this congregation issued additional guidance concerning parishes in the summer of that year has not changed the fact that saving a parish through a canonical appeal is in my opinion an extremely difficult proposition.
I am not saying that eliminating a particular parish, or the elimination of parishes in general is a wise action. Personally, I am of the opinion that unless a parish is running a deficit or has some other unquestionably severe problem that will prove fatal to its continued existence in the short term that a parish ought not be eliminated. I personally don’t believe it is wise to eliminate parishes based solely on a shortage of priests, and I don’t believe it makes sense to eliminate small parishes on account of the fact that they are small, or that they are located in a rural area, or for any other reason related to their size. But at the end of the day, I am not a bishop. I am a lay person who is writing an article, to help you, the Catholic lay person who is facing the loss of your parish and/or church. I don’t make the rules; I only am able to give you the best guidance I can provide.
What I have written above may have been upsetting to you, and I get that. I have found over the course of the time in which I have been helping people contest the closure of their parishes and/or churches, that there tend to be two types of people who are most opposed to a closure, those who value the community that attends a church, and those who for one reason or another value the church itself that is facing closure. If you have come to this article solely on account of the fact that you value those who attend Sunday mass with you every week and other parish activities at various times, I can completely understand why the very long odds associated with saving a parish may be upsetting to you. What I want to say to you though is that if you keep reading, you will find that it is possible to preserve that sense of community in one of several ways, and that you may want to rethink why the closure of your place of worship (either the closure of your “church” completely or at the very least for regular use is in and of itself not something that should be ignored, even if your “parish” cannot be saved.) If you fall into the other category of individuals who generally oppose a closure, i.e. if you are a person who values the church you attend for one of any number of reasons, including its beauty, its historic sacred art and architecture, the fact that you or your family have a deep connection to the church, or because you understand that a Roman Catholic church is in fact “sacred space,” the good news is that the loss of your parish will not doom your church to automatic closure. In fact, it is the case that it is far more likely that you will be able to save the church that is contained within your parish than it is that you will be able to save the parish itself.
Canon law gives additional protections to churches that parishes do not enjoy, on account of the fact that while a “just” cause is sufficient to justify the closure of a parish, a “grave” cause is required to justify the closure of a church. There are far fewer “grave” causes than there are “just” causes. As I mentioned above, it is the case that two issues in and of themselves are serious enough to justify the permanent closure of a church, that the church has been damaged beyond the point of repair (literally destroyed,) and that there are no financial resources of any kind, either from within the parish itself or from any other source (such as individuals who wish to see the church remain a Roman Catholic sacred space and who are prepared to fund the cause out of their own pockets,) available to pay for the continued upkeep and maintenance of the church. While it is possible to combine several “just” causes to create a cause that is sufficiently “grave” to justify the closure of a church, such cannot be done when it is possible in reality to eliminate the just causes through solutions to the issues associated with them. In short, a bishop or archbishop cannot simply combine a number of just causes to justify the closure of a church simply because he feels like closing a church; if this is happening to you, you have the best chance of surviving it.
Based on all of this, it is my advice to you that you concentrate your efforts on challenging the closure of your church, if it is threatened, rather than spend the majority of your time and resources challenging the closure of your parish itself. If your parish has been ordered closed, but your church has not been ordered closed yet, it is still advisable that you take steps now to safeguard it against the future possibility of closure. I am not telling you not to challenge the closure of a parish; I am simply saying that this sort of challenge stands a smaller chance of success than does a challenge to the closure of a church itself, or the taking of preemptive action aimed at ensuring that it is not possible to permanently close a church in the future. Regardless of the particulars of your situation or the approach you take to respond to it, it is essential, if possible, that you not approach a challenge to the closure of your parish and/or church alone.