Parishioners At Churches Slated For Sale Fight On

By WGBH News   |   Tuesday, July 19, 2011
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Jul. 19, 2011

BOSTON — Members of six churches slated for sale by the Archdiocese of Boston are hoping the Vatican can help them keep their parishes open.

Last week, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley issued a decree that strips six closed church buildings of their religious classifications and paves the way for their sale to private developers. On Monday, all six of these churches sent letters to O’Malley notifying him that they intend to appeal his decision with the Vatican.
Suzanne Hurley is a member of the Council of Parishes and spokesperson for the parishioners at St. James the Great in Wellesley, Mass., which could be sold under O'Malley's decree. O'Malley has asked parishioners to accept the archdiocese' latest decision, but she says the individuals committed to certain churches need to make themselves heard.

“I think we still have a majority of parishioners who still believe that their role is to sit, pray, pay and obey,” she says. “I’m tired of feeling like I am not allowed to question them, that they’re the bully in the sand box, and if you don’t like it then you’re just supposed to move on. Parishioners need to stop doing that.”
Hurley contended the decision to to sell off her church shouldn't be up to the archdiocese alone. She says parishioners have built, paid for and sustained their own churches and that they shouldn’t be sold away to pay for the financial troubles of the diocese.

" If you want me to open my pocketbook then you need to open your ears, you need to open your mind, you need to open your heart and understand we are a part of it," Hurley said.
Earlier this year, the Vatican took the rare step of halting the closures of three Massachusetts churches.

The appeals process started this week could take two to three years to resolve.

This report was compiled by Luke Boelitz, using material from WGBH's The Emily Rooney Show, which is produced by Frannie Carr, Edgar Herwick and Jeff Keating.

Boston Archdiocese Moves To Sell 6 Closed Churches

By Jordan Weinstein   |   Friday, July 15, 2011
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July 15, 2011

BOSTON — The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has decided to sell off six churches that have been closed since 2004.  The decision to sell follows a decree that the churches may be offered up for secular use.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s announcement comes after the Vatican’s rejection of appeals by parishioners, some of whom have occupied several of the churches for years. Father Arthur Coyle, the cardinal’s liaison for the process of selling church properties, said he’s hopeful that parishioners who have been occupying closed churches in Wellesley, Scituate and East Boston will accept the decision.
“We would hope that through discussions and so forth, these people would join their fellow parishioners in other parishes and move on,” O’Malley said.
The spokesman for the Archdiocese, Terry Donilon, said that despite the Cardinal’s success in closing a $15 million annual Central Ministries deficit, serious structural problems remain.
“We have significant challenges both in our capital needs for churches and in the ability to overcome the very distinct and drastic decline in the number of people coming to Mass,” Donilon said.
The parishioners who have been holding lay services in some of these churches are considering how to respond. One member, Jon Rogers, who has been among those fighting the closure of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini in Scituate, said that he and other protestors would happily buy the church if given the opportunity.

While Father Coyle said he expects that those opposed to the sale will again appeal the decision to the Vatican, Rogers said the parishioners have had enough of such appeals and hope to find a new solution.
“If all else fails and they don’t want us, please: return the church to its rightful owners and let us practice our beliefs as we see fit,” he said.

Plan B

Wednesday, March 2, 2011
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'We Need People Like Him Every Day'

By Jess Bidgood   |   Tuesday, March 1, 2011
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Mar. 1, 2011

BOSTON — The Harvard community — and people the world over — is mourning the death of Reverend Peter Gomes, the man who ran the university's Memorial Church for over forty years.

Gomes died Monday night because of complications from a stroke he had in December. He was 68.

The Reverend Peter Gomes died Monday at the age of 68, after a more-than 40-year ministry at Harvard University. 

Gomes' longtime friend, writer and columnist Mike Barnicle, met Gomes because the two would regularly spend early mornings at the same restaurant. "He was an education to sit with, next to, to listen to, a sheer education. Not just in terms of his moral values but his view on the world,” Barnicle told WGBH's Emily Rooney on Tuesday.

A black, openly gay minister, Gomes was a decided rarity. He came out about his sexuality in 1991. 

He was also politically conservative for most of his career, although he changed his political affiliation to Democrat to vote for Gov. Deval Patrick in 2006.

Barnicle said Gomes learned from his own experience being different, and set out to help others with theirs. 

"He was was an expert at honing in on the demonization of people," Barnicle said. "He could see people and institutions being demonized well before it would become apparent tthat they were being demonized."

That, Barnicle said, gave Gomes a sense of fairness that underguarded his political and religious beliefs.

“It’s not fair to go after people because of who they are, or because of their sexual orientation, or because of their color, or because of their income, or because of their zip code. That’s who he was, he was an expert in what’s fair,” Barnicle said.

Gomes was known for his soaring, intricate speaking style. "I like playing with words and structure," he said once, "Marching up to an idea, saluting, backing off, making a feint and then turning around."

"His sermons were actually high theater in my mind," Barnicle remembered.

Gomes did not leave behind a memoir; He said he'd start work on it when he retired, at 70. It's a shame, Barnicle said. "We need more of him than just a memoir, we need people like him every day."

Gomes reflected on his life's work — and his death — on Charlie Rose's talk show in 2007. 

I even have the tombstone the verse on my stone is to be from 2 Timothy. “Study to show thyself approved unto God a workman who needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” That’s what I try to do, that’s what I want people to thnk of me after I’m gone. When I was young, we all had to memorize vast quantities of scripture and I remember that passage from Timothy I thought, 'Hey that’s not a bad life’s work.' And in a way I’ve tried to live into it. So my epitaph is not going to be new to me, it’s the path I have followed in my ministry and my life.

Your comments: Did you ever hear Gomes speak? Share your memories.

Study: When Preachers No Longer Believe

Wednesday, December 29, 2010
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Dec. 29, 2010

BOSTON -- The Tufts University philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett wasn’t surprised when, during research for a book, he encountered “secret non-believers”—outwardly religious people who don’t believe in the creed of their own churches.
But he was stunned when some of those non-believers turned out to be priests themselves.

Prof. Daniel Dennett at a conference in Gemany in 2008. (Wikimedia Commons)

“They’re good people who good stuck in this awful trap,” Dennett said. “We found some that were really suffering.”
Dennett anonymously interviewed five active pastors who said they no longer believed the tenets of their church, but he thinks there are many more pastors like them. Now, he’s gearing up for a second, larger study on the issue.
For the most part, Dennett found, the non-believing ministers he knew simply didn’t learn early enough that something didn’t feel right about their work. “They’re basically very good people. They went into the clergy because, given their background, how they were raised, they wanted to do good in this world and this is the best path they could see,” Dennett told WGBH’s Emily Rooney. “Their first mistake is they should have gotten out in seminary, when the getting was good. Their second mistake was staying around and thinking, well, I’ll live with this, I can deal with this.”
Those priests, he said, are forced into moral, social and professional isolation. “They have to teach the doctrines of the church, and if you no longer believe them, you’ve got a moral problem.”
One minister still hasn’t told his very devout wife because he worries she would be devastated by the news. “These people lead very lonely lives, in some cases,” Dennett said.
Dennett wants to learn more about how these priests handle their situation. He knows some work out their own private understanding with a God. “They say, ‘I am not an atheist, I believe in God, but I believe in the God that I believe in.’ That’s very much a private God because they can’t talk about that God from the pulpit.”
He also wants to learn more about the scale of the issue. “We know there’s Catholics, we know there’s Mormons, we know there’s Jewish rabbis,” Dennett said, “but we have no idea yet how big this phenomenon is.”
But an aspect of his first study suggests it’s not uncommon. “Nobody says well, it’s a tiny tiny fraction,” Dennett said. ““Nobody denies that this phenomenon exists, not a single one of our critics has suggested that we are making this up.”
 Likewise, he said, no one criticized Dennett and his team for looking into the issue.  They were critical of people admitting it. “It was like magicians getting angry with magicians for telling how a trick is done,” Dennett said.

The Mosque Next Door

By Phillip Martin   |   Friday, December 10, 2010
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Sept. 10, 2010

BOSTON — Nine years after the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington, hostility toward Islam seems to be actually growing in the U.S. The government reports hate crimes against Muslims are up and a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that two-thirds of Americans oppose building an Islamic center near ground zero in lower Manhattan. On the eve of the ninth anniversary of Sept. 11, WGBH reporter Phillip Martin reports on a similar controversy over the building of a mosque in Boston.

About the Authors
The WGBH News team comprises the WGBH radio newsroom, The Callie Crossley Show, The Emily Rooney Show and WGBH Channel 2 reporters and producers from Greater Boston and Basic Black. 
Jordan Weinstein Jordan Weinstein
Jordan Weinstein is a news anchor for NPR's All Things Considered on WGBH, 89.7 FM in Boston.
Jess Bidgood Jess Bidgood
Jess Bidgood is's news editor and producer.
Phillip Martin Phillip Martin
Phillip W. D. Martin is the senior investigative reporter for WGBH Radio News and executive producer for Lifted Veils Productions. In the past, he was a supervising senior editor for NPR, an NPR race relations correspondent and one of the senior producers responsible for creating The World radio program in 1995. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in 1998. Learn more at


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