New York, May 2, 2016 - Cardinal Dolan, Chancellor Mustaciuolo and the team at the Office of Parish Planning must have been in a hurry to get things done last week. The Congregation for the Clergy had previously issued a review deadline of April 30 on the appeals of two Upper East Side parishes, Our Lady of Peace and St. Elizabeth of Hungary. In an article that appeared on April 28 in Catholic New York, "Two Manhattan Merger Decrees to be Reissued," Cardinal Dolan's spokesperson, Joseph Zwilling told the publication that the Congregation for the Clergy had given some directives to Cardinal Dolan.
"Cardinal Dolan this week plans to revoke the original decrees for the mergers of two sets of Manhattan parishes and then issue new decrees with revised parish boundaries before reissuing the decrees merging the parishes....
The Vatican Congregation for the Clergy, which oversees parish mergers, notified the archdiocese that it should have redrawn the parish boundaries before the mergers were put into effect, not afterward, as the archdiocese had planned."
Zwilling also stated that letters publicizing the new changes would be read at Masses at St. Monica’s and St. John the Evangelist churches the weekend of April 30-May 1, 2016.
Later in the afternoon of April 28, a new page appeared in the archdiocesan website's drop down menu under Making All Things New: Decrees 4/28/2016. Citing the "useful and pertinent observations of the Congregation for the Clergy," a new decree signed by the Cardinal and the Chancellor revoked the previous decree that merged the territorial parish of Saint John the Evangelist and the personal parish of Our Lady of Peace. The decree was dated April 27, 2016. Click here to read the decree revoking the merger of November 2, 2014.
For approximately 24 hours, Our Lady of Peace was an independent parish again. The long awaited news reached those assembled at the church steps on East 62nd Street and was announced on the 54-Day Rosary teleconference just as the Angelus was about to begin. It was the 270th consecutive day of the novena, and the news was regarded as nothing short of miraculous. The celebratory moment was short-lived.
In quick succession, two new decrees were published to the website: On April 28, a second decree changing the boundaries of Saint John the Evangelist was issued. The original boundaries of Saint John the Evangelist were East 49th Street to the south, Third Avenue to the West, 59th Street to the north, and the East River. The new decree, which changed the boundaries of Saint John the Evangelist, carved out a section from the territory of Saint Vincent Ferrer-Saint Catherine of Sienna, two territorial parishes that were also merged in 2014. The new boundary decree appears to take the property of Our Lady of Peace and place it the territory of Saint John the Evangelist. Click here to read the decree changing the boundaries.
The third decree, issued on Friday, April 29, and posted on the archdiocesan website in the late afternoon, was a new decree merging the parishes of Saint John the Evangelist and Our Lady of Peace. Although the new decree has some different language from the first merger decree, those differences are negligible; and the description of the rights of the parishioners to be members of the merged parish, and the circumstances during which the church would be open are vague. Click here to read the new decree of merger.
Afterward, a letter from the Cardinal to the parishioners of the merged parishes was posted on the archdiocesan website on Saturday, April 30. Contrary to the article published in Catholic New York, neither the letter nor the new decrees were read during the Masses. A brief announcement about the "letter from Cardinal Dolan about the expansion of the parish," directed people to the side and rear entrances of Saint John the Evangelist, where they could find the letters. Parishioners of Our Lady of Peace, who attended all the Masses at Saint John the Evangelist during the weekend, reported that the pastor, Monsignor Douglas Mathers, was not even present. Click here to read the letter from Cardinal Dolan to the parishioners of Saint John the Evangelist and Our Lady of Peace. *
*UPDATE June 9, 2016: The letter was taken down from the archdiocese website link on or before June 7, 2016. To read a copy of the letter that we downloaded from the website, click here: Download Letter from Cardinal Dolan to Parishioners of SJE 5-1-2016
The immediate publication of the decrees on the archdiocesan website contrasts with the way the archdiocese handled the merger decisions of November 2014. A that time, only a letter of intent was read by the pastors on All Souls Day. The release of the actual merger decrees was obstructed by the archdiocese. No one was permitted to receive, pay for, or photograph a copy. It took until February 11, 2015, for the archdiocese to finally post the decrees on its website, and for petitioners at various parishes to obtain the necessary copies, which are required by Canon Law to proceed with recourse to the Vatican. New York Times reporter Sharon Otterman broke the story "New York Archdiocese Parishioners See System of Secrets as They Fight Church Closings" on the next day.
The parishioners of several New York churches, who appealed to the Vatican in 2014 and were given multiple extensions to file recourse materials, received decrees from the Congregation of the Clergy in March 2016. Several of these parishes were merged and open, like the Church of St. Andrew on Cardinal Hayes Place in Manhattan, or merged and closed, like the Polish parish of St. Joseph in Poughkeepsie, New York. These two parishes posted the decrees they received from the Congregation for the Clergy online. Click here to view the decree for the parish of St. Andrew. The decree received by the parishioners of St. Joseph's in Poughkeepsie can be viewed by clicking here.
Parishioners of Our Lady of Peace plan to file another remonstratio asking Cardinal Dolan to rescind his latest decrees and start the appeal process again.