Priest punished for serving closed parish

Priest punished for serving closed parish

A priest of the Spokane diocese who said Masses at a closed parish full of protesters in Boston has been told that his faculties have been revoked in the archdiocese. Fr. Tom Mele was studying for a degree at Boston College. When Infant Jesus-St. Lawrence parish in Brookline closed on October 29, 2004, he was contacted by the people and asked to celebrate Mass weekly. The parish has since reopened as a chapel of another parish.

While this may be a bit heavy-handed (I can think of other priests in the archdiocese who have done far worse and remain at the altar), Mele can’t exactly be surprised. He’s suffering the consequences of his actions. He acted in disobedience to the bishop of this diocese. What else could he expect? Hey, it makes his action more noble and self-sacrificial if there’s an actual cost.

But though the vigil is over, parishioners had hoped Mele would stay on, and many questioned removing a priest at a time when the archdiocese is citing a priest shortage as one of the reasons for closing parishes. “You have a priest like this who is willing to step in,” Healy said. “It would be great to have a priest that the people care for ... It’d be nice if they let him step up and say Mass. I don’t get it.”

For one thing, he’s not a priest of the diocese and presumably he’ll be returning to his own diocese at the end of his studies. Or not: evidently he’s the director of a veterans outreach center in the Boston area. It’s not exactly like he was going to have time to be a parish priest.

  • I’m trying to see this through Jesus’ eyes.  A priest said Mass for a group of people who wanted to attend Mass in a church that was built for that purpose, but was intended to be sold because there is a shortage of priests and thus no priest to say Mass in that church.  Now the priest has been denied the right to say Mass in any church in Boston as a punishment for saying Mass at one of them.  Somehow I have a feeling that Jesus would look down on this and weep.

  • I see it much more simply. There are a half dozen churches within 2 miles of that church. Rather than obey the bishop, whose own ministry it is that the priest represents when saying Mass, the priest instead undermined the authority and decided that he would damage the people’s unity with the Church in the person of the bishop.

  • You see it politically, and I understand that view though tend to get frustrated with it.  I also tend to see it as more complicated rather than more simple.

  • How is that political? It is the theological principle of the Church as hierarchical as well as the theological principle that the bishop is the Pastor of every Catholic in the diocese.

  • This priest is lucky that O’Malley didn’t have the priest’s bishop remove him from the Archdiocese of Boston.

    I would say O’Malley acted with restraint.

  • Dom’s got it right: it’s not about organizational politics, it’s about ecclesial communion.  Illicit “ministry” harms communion in the Church. 

  • Who are the hieracrchy to say how many Churches are enough?  Wouldn’t the parishoners have much more of a grip on this than a Bishop?

    I always recommend to parishes abandoned by their Bishops that they contract with missionaries that do not answer to an opposing hierarchy.

    There are plenty of missionaries around just looking for a place to have a ministry.  Give them a call.

    And RC, while I agree that the vow of obedience is a serious one, I would have to say that closing a thriving church harms communion in the Church vastly more than ministering to the faithful.


  • Go easy on the fellow: he has to say Mass somewhere.  Being a priest of the Spokane diocese, thanks to Skylstad’s foolish gamble and the evil men and women fleecing the Catholic faithful of Spokane in bankruptcy court, he won’t have anyplace to say Mass back home!

  • When Christ walked the earth, He did not establish dioceses.  That is a political structure the Church has adopted, and the rules that go with it about when and where a priest will say Mass are formulated by man.  Yes, the Holy Spirit is involved, but He may not have been involved in this particular decision.  And yes, I understand the bishop’s need to maintain control.

    Still there is that nagging sense that what Jesus wants most is for Catholics who want to attend Mass to be able to do so, and to have a priest available to say one.  I think that should have a priority, and I think that when this desire is thwarted, even if it may be thwarted for good reason, that Jesus will be gravely disappointed in the way we handle living our faith.  With the best of intentions it still appears as though the system in Boston has failed the One it intends to serve.  As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    The Evil One is a clever deceiver.

  • Who are the hieracrchy to say how many Churches are enough? 

    The hierarchy are bishops and they are the successors of the apostles appointed by Christ. They have been given authority by God to bind and loose in heaven and on earth. They have been appointed to lead.

    When Christ walked the earth, He did not establish dioceses. 

    I suggest you both read a little more closely in the early Church fathers and in the New Testament. Timothy was appointed to his diocese. James was appointed to his. Other bishops were also appointed in the New Testament. In the book of Revelations, Jesus addresses the seven churches (i.e. dioceses) of Asia Minor.

    The words may have changed, but the meaning is the same. The structure of the local church/diocese with bishop as the Pastor is as old as the Church herself and is part of nature of the Church.

    Still there is that nagging sense that what Jesus wants most is for Catholics who want to attend Mass to be able to do so, and to have a priest available to say one.

    Come on, look at the facts in the case again. We’re not talking about the only priest within 100 square miles being removed. There are a half-dozen parishes within a brisk walk of this place.

    You’re both making excuses for why disobeying a bishop in a simple matter of priestly obedience is a good thing. Sometimes a good priest will have to refuse an immoral order from a bad bishop (since no one can order you to do something immoral), but that doesn’t apply at all in this case.

  • Wouldntervening Archbishop Sean’s order of suppression because Mele was not himself a diocesean priest.

    Of course, he was not alone, as other members of the clergy supplied various parishes that went into vigil to resist their suppression with consecrated wafer and wine and even officiated at masses held at these churches, some of which Rome chose not to spare from suppression or merger.  But is not any parish entitled to due process before orders from an ordinary have been reviwed and affirmed by the Vatican and do they not have the right to ask a priest not subject to thier bishop to assist them in keeping their community of faith alive until the highest authorit has made its final ruling?

  • (wadr) Dom,

    I cannot agree less with your rosy assessment of the holy managerial abilities of the hierarchy. 

    By no means has the physical structure of the church nor the staffing of churhces been an absolute role of the Bishops.  Rather, it was a role of the Royalty in Europe and Trustees in the USA to strongly advise (and de facto control) the hierarchy on staffing and physical matters.

    Only in the USA, with a huge dose of anti-Catholic baiting politics, did the Bishops seize the “Corporation Sole” control that we see in our Churches today. 

    There is no history of absolutism in our Church, the present system of absolutism develops miserable situations such as you describe in Brookline, and our future looks to be more like an authoritarian ‘Burger King’ than a Holy Mother Church if we continue to abide the absolute right of Bishops to do the wrong thing.


  • I have the simple solution.  Quit giving money to the Bishops until they begin behaving in the interests of the Church.

    It isn’t possible to defund them because Canon Law works in their favor.  Catholic Charities can be defunded and the money contributed directly to the charity instead, but the chanceries will simply tax the parishes to get the rest of the money.

    Plus, Rome is behind the bishops autonomy and wants to give them more of it in the name of collegiality.


  • Not to sound like everything is rosey here in Chicago ……. but we have beaten this issue (pretty much) within Catholic Schools.  Rather than funding schools the via the Archdiocese, money goes to the “Big Shoulders Fund”, which acts as trustees for the Catholic Schools. 

    The Cardinal realizes (and demands that) this works, and supports it 100%, thus stewarding and sheperding, but not burdening the Church with absolute control of the money (staffing, placement etc). 

    I think this could work just fine on a variety of funding and staffing issues, that is, gathering dontations into a managed trust rather than throwing money over the walls to the (Arch)diocese and praying it is used wisely.