Vatican halts some parish closures in St. Louis following appeals

Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis Stained-glass window at the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis. | Credit: Ella Manthey/Shutterstock

Two St. Louis parishes that appealed to the Vatican after Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski ordered them to merge last year have had their appeals upheld by the Holy See, reversing the archbishop’s prior decision.

As part of the archdiocese’s major pastoral planning initiative dubbed “All Things New,” Rozanski announced a year ago that the number of parishes would be reduced by nearly 50 by way of parish mergers and closures.

Under canon law, a diocesan bishop has the authority to alter parishes, but only for a just reason specific to each parish. Concern for souls must be the principal motivation for modifying a parish.

Amid the All Things New process, a number of parishes announced their intention to send appeals to the Vatican, putting aspects of the mergers planned for the parishes on hold until the Dicastery for the Clergy’s rulings. 

After studying the acts of the case for St. Angela Merici Parish in Florissant, Missouri, the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Clergy did not find just cause for the parish to be combined to form a single parish with St. Norbert and Holy Name of Jesus parishes, the archdiocese said in a May 14 statement. The dicastery was therefore unable to sustain Rozanski’s decree. 

While retaining their statuses as three separate parish communities, St. Angela Merici, St. Norbert, and Holy Name of Jesus parishes will all remain under the pastoral guidance of Father Peter Faimega, the archdiocese continued.

In addition, the Dicastery for the Clergy did not find just cause for St. Martin of Tours Parish in Lemay, Missouri, to be subsumed by St. Mark Parish, the archdiocese said.

The same day, the archdiocese announced that another appeal brought by St. Roch Parish in St. Louis had resulted in Rozanski’s decree being upheld. St. Roch was to be subsumed by Christ the King Parish, effective Aug. 1, 2023, and this month its school is set to close. 

Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski of St. Louis. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski of St. Louis. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Before announcing the changes in May 2023, the archdiocese held 350 listening sessions, with at least one in each of the 178 current parishes. It also considered feedback from 70,000 Catholics in the archdiocese who participated in a survey. Feedback was also solicited from 18,000 school parents, staff, teachers, donors, and community partners. The archdiocese also held focus groups and talked with civil and business leaders.

Rozanski had originally declined to revoke any of the 83 decrees he made regarding the final plans, leaving the parishes with recourse only to the Vatican. However, he did suspend his decree regarding St. Angela Merici and St. Martin of Tours prior to the decisions from the dicastery, so “no additional changes will be necessary,” the archdiocese said. 

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the dicastery earlier this year overturned the closure decree for St. Richard Parish near Creve Coeur, Missouri, while also denying an appeal from the closed Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Ferguson. At least 11 parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Louis still have outstanding appeals regarding closings or mergers, the archdiocese has noted. 

The archdiocese has previously said that the widespread reassignment of 158 archdiocesan priests, which was announced along with the various mergers, will proceed as planned. 

The St. Louis parishes’ appeals to the Vatican are not unprecedented in the United States. In dioceses such as Cleveland, Buffalo, New York, Boston, and Springfield, Massachusetts, parishioners have issued appeals to the Dicastery for the Clergy to save their parishes after their bishops ordered them closed.

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