By Mark Sullivan
Telegram & Gazette Staff
WORCESTER - Rome has spoken, and the decision deals a blow to those trying to save the landmark Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church.
A Vatican office has denied a preservation group’s appeal of Worcester Bishop Robert McManus’ decision to merge Our Lady Of Mount Carmel and sister church Our Lady of Loreto into one parish.
Subsequently, the bishop has decreed that the closed Mount Carmel Church building on Mulberry Street be deconsecrated and reduced to “profane” or nonreligious use. This gives the go-ahead for the
See CHURCH, A5
A Vatican decision has opened the door to sale of Mount Carmel Church property on Mulberry Street in Worcester. [PHOTOS/ MATT WRIGHT]
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Mulberry Street in Worcester has been closed since May 2016. Below, a cross removed from display at the church.
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church building and surrounding 5 acres to be put up for sale.
The bishop’s decree relegating the old church is to be announced to parishioners this weekend.
Meanwhile, a real estate listing for the 5.3-acre Mount Carmel property was to be posted by the end of this week.
The asking price has not been set, but the parcel is expected to fetch millions. The land and buildings are assessed by the city at $7.65 million.
The brochure by commercial real estate brokers Kelleher & Sadowsky Associates describes the site off Interstate 290 and Shrewsbury Street’s restaurant row, a short walk from Union Station, as “the best development opportunity Worcester has seen in recent years.”
James G. Umphrey, principal of Kelleher & Sadowsky, said the brokerage will put out a call for offers on the parcel. He said he expected the property in a “Triple A location” to “generate a lot of activity.”
The group trying to save the church is crying foul.
The president of the Mount Carmel Preservation Society said Thursday the group had not been informed by the diocese of the Vatican's decision or the bishop’s decree, and only learned about both when contacted by the Telegram & Gazette for comment.
“The action taken by the Diocese and parish leadership is certainly disappointing, hurtful and shakes one’s faith,” Mauro DePasquale wrote in an email. “It has angered and sickened us … “How is it that the parishioners and organization (Mount Carmel Preservation Society) that has advocated for over a year so far, to save the church as a sacred Roman Catholic space, are last to learn about the Bishop’s intention to proceed ... regarding this new latest decree to relegate the church to profane but not sordid use?
“To learn it from reporters shows extreme disregard and respect to their own parishioners,” he wrote. “It is demonstrative of the lack of good faith we have been experiencing and have called attention to from the beginning since the Diocese unjustly closed the church in May 2016.”
The preservationists have sought to put the brakes on Mount Carmel’s closing and sale through an appeal to Rome under canon, or Catholic Church, law.
Members of the Mount Carmel Preservation Society filed an appeal of the parish merger with the Congregation for the Clergy, the administrative sector of the Holy See, universal government of the Catholic Church, which oversees parish priests and churches worldwide.
The Congregation for the Clergy notified the Worcester diocese last week that the merger appeal had been denied.
The bishop's decree is required for the building to be put up for sale. The Mount Carmel Preservation Society has indicated in the past it would appeal a relegation decree, if and when the bishop made it, to the bishop and then to the Congregation for the Clergy.
The bishop’s decree means the Mount Carmel property may be used for non-religious activity as long as that activity is not contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church, said Raymond Delisle, diocesan chancellor and communications director.
The bishop’s permission will be required for the sale of the former church, and prior to any sale, all sacred objects must be removed, according to the decree, which takes effect Friday.
“The parish may now continue with discussions on what needs to be done to market the property on Mulberry Street and then present a final recommendation to Bishop McManus,” Mr. Delisle said.
The 5.32 acres includes the closed Mount Carmel Church, its rectory and community center, a Little League baseball field and associated parking.
The Mount Carmel Church building previously had been slated for demolition. The 88-year-old landmark church, long at the heart of Worcester’s Italian community, is crumbling after decades’ exposure to passing traffic on elevated I-290, literally feet from the church’s bell tower.
With repairs seen costing millions of dollars that the aging parish did not have, the church was closed in spring 2016, and services were shifted to Our Lady of Loreto on Massasoit Road.
The Worcester diocese had sought to take down the Mount Carmel Church building. A yearlong delay in demolition, imposed by a local preservation ordinance, expired in May.
In June, parish leadership announced the old church building would be put up for sale, along with the surrounding campus.
Longtime parishioners opposed to the closing and demolition formed the Mount Carmel Preservation Society, which has staged fundraisers and prayer vigils to save the church.
Mr. DePasquale, the society’s president, said in Junethe group would be open to the sale of most of the property “so long as the church itself remains preserved and consecrated Roman Catholic sacred space.”
The group proposes Mount Carmel be preserved for use as a Catholic shrine where Mass and other religious observances could be held with the bishop’s blessing. The private group says it would be responsible for the maintenance and financial support of such a shrine.
“We feel the church can be saved and sustained for the long term,” Mr. DePasquale wrote in his email Thursday.
“Mount Carmel Preservation Society is currently studying options and considering all available means to find a solution that ALL parties involved can be agreeable to, however, with a focus to save it as a Roman Catholic Sacred Space.
“We intend, within the next 10 days, to pursue, with prayer, ALL available tools and instruments made through Canon, and possibly Civil, laws that might be useful toward preserving our Church,” he wrote. “We continue to Stand Tall to save Our Lady Of Mount Carmel Church.”
The appeals process is not exhausted, according to the diocesan spokesman, Mr. Delisle.
The parish merger decision by the Congregation for the Clergy may be appealed to the Apostolic Signatura, the highest court in the Holy See and the last option in the appeal process, Mr. Delisle said.
Meantime, an appeal of the bishop's relegation decree may be made to the bishop, and then beyond that to the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome, Mr. Delisle said.
Monsignor F. Stephen Pedone, pastor of the merged Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish at Our Lady of Loreto Church and a noted canon lawyer who serves as the Worcester Diocese's judicial vicar, did not return messages seeking comment.