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‘Phony’ offer won’t stop fight to keep church open

Date: 9/28/2011

Sept. 28, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE — The parishioners fighting to keep the Mater Dolorosa Church open will take no immediate action on the latest deal from the Diocese of Springfield.

The spokesperson for the diocese, Mark Dupont, explained to Reminder Publications the diocese had offered the parish to remove the steeple from the building, keep it on the property, secure the building and take no further action until the parishioners have completed their final appeal to the Vatican. In exchange, the parishioners must cease their 24-hour pray vigils and leave the church.

Parishioner Victor Anop said the offer was “phony.”

“What kind of offer is that?” he asked.

Fellow parish member Peter Stasz said, “There is a widespread lack of trust, not just at the church but throughout the diocese.”

Anop said the parishioners have decided to wait until a second engineering report on the steeple and the building’s structural integrity is completed before making their next move.

Canon law stipulates the church can’t be altered in such a way until the last appeal is exhausted, Anop said. He added that to remove the steeple the diocese must go through the Holyoke Historical Commission.

Dupont said on Sept. 8 the Vatican upheld the decrees that merged Holyoke’s Mater Dolorosa and Holy Cross parishes to create the new Our Lady of the Cross Parish on July 1.

The new parish will maintain the Mater Dolorosa School, Mater Dolorosa Cemetery and Pope John Paul II Social Center.

Parishioners now have one final appeal to the Vatican, which would center on determining if the Congregation for the Clergy — the entity that confirmed the diocese’s decision to close the church — acted within canon law.

Dupont said the body to decide that is the Vatican’s version of the Supreme Court and will examine only the actions of the Congregation of the Clergy and not the diocese.

“It is a much more restrictive environment in which to appeal,” Dupont said, adding “The probability is low [for a reversal].”

Part of the controversy centers on the condition of the church steeple and how much money it would cost to repair it.

According to the report written by the structural engineer hired by the diocese, Bernard J. Hunt, “The immediate concern is the structural stability of the steeple from the bell floor elevation up to the steeple top. Below the bell floor elevation at the rear of the choir loft, cracking is evident in the plaster, which indicates there may also be load related damage to the masonry at this level.”

Hunt’s firm has set an initial cost for repairs to the steeple at $250,000 to $350,000.

Anop charged the diocese is closing ethnic churches such as Mater Dolorosa and added the attendance was greater at Mater Dolorosa than it was at Holy Cross.

“On the church calendar, the feast days of the Holy Cross and Mater Dolorosa (Mother of Sorrows) come together this very week, Sept. 14 and 15,” Bishop Timothy McDonnell said. “Despite the disappointment felt by those appealing the parish closing, I pray that now they will come together in the new parish of Our Lady of the Cross, which honors both Holy Cross and the Mother of Sorrows.”

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