parishioners hopeful East Side church will reopen News

| 29 Mar 2016 | 11:07

Parishioners at Our Lady of Peace, who are appealing the East 62nd Street church’s closing last summer by the Archdiocese of New York, are cautiously optimistic following the extension of their appeal to the Vatican.

Our Lady of Peace’s appeal was among 14 submitted to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, which in the last few weeks in effect amended the closure decrees of six churches even while it upheld the closures of three churches. The amendments state that the six churches will open for their annual feast days and their anniversary dates, and, for two of those churches, also on other occasions.

That Our Lady of Peace’s appeal is among five still outstanding recourse efforts “is reason for hope,” said Janice Dooner Lynch, a longtime parishioner.

“Before that, everyone got the same letter” from the Vatican, she said. “There are finally differences. I look at it as they’re taking an opportunity to very carefully look at our recourse. That means they’re taking it seriously.”

A letter from the Congregation for the Clergy’s prefect, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, and addressed to Lynch and others earlier this month said the Congregation “found it necessary to seek additional information” from the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan. The recourse was extended to April 30, the fourth time a decision on the parishioners’ appeal has been pushed back.

The Archdiocese, as it did when it shuttered and merged dozens of churches in the city and across the region July 31, cited declining attendance, shifting demographics, financial constraints and a shortage of priests for the closure of Our Lady of Peace.

Lynch and others on the church’s appeals committee have sent the Congregation for the Clergy more than 10 volumes of documents, including financial records, to try and persuade the Vatican that the Archdiocese acted without merit in closing the church. Parishioners have also raised about $500,000, an amount they say would pay church expenses for 10 years.

“We’ve hit our goal and we’ve exceeded it, and that’s a positive,” said Shane Dinneen, a parishioner at the church for nine years and the president of Friends of Our Lady of Peace, the nonprofit administering the fund.

Dinneen, who has contributed more than $250,000 to the fund, said he was hopeful that the substance of the parishioners’ appeal would support their contention that, contrary to the Archdiocese’s claims, attendance at the church had been growing and that Our Lady of Peace was in good financial health.

“Rome isn’t just deferring to the cardinal. And that was a possibility,” he said, referring to the amended decrees. “Churches are going to be handled on a case-by-case basis, which we think is good for Our Lady of Peace because we think we’re different.”

Sister Kate Kuenstler, a canon lawyer who is representing the 14 parishes in their appeals, said “there is great hope” for the five parishes whose appeals are still before the Congregation.

Kuenstler, who is based in Rhode Island, said it appeared that a newly installed group of canon lawyers were taking a closer look at parish closings since Pope Francis appointed Stella as the Congregation for the Clergy’s prefect in 2013.

“Previous prefects were not interested in protecting the rights of the parishioners,” she said. “They have been very disturbed by what’s happening.”

She said the “due diligence” of Our Lady of Peace’s recourse efforts were “clearer than any of the ones already received” by the Vatican.

“I think they have a very good future,” she said. “I really think they will get a better decision.”

Officially, Our Lady of Peace merged with St. John the Evangelist Church, on East 55th Street, to create a brand new parish, with St. John’s designated the parish church, when the former was shuttered.