Friday, May 25, 2007

SJC Upholds Archdiocese Closing of Church on Donated Land

Back in June 2005, I posed the following question to readers of The Right Thing column:

In 1946, according to an article in The Boston Globe, the Maffei family of Wellesley, Mass., signed over eight acres of land to the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston so a new church could be built. Last October, the archdiocese closed the church. The family said it would sue the archdiocese to get back the land, now valued at $1.44 million.

The Maffei lawyers argue that the family was not fully informed that the church could possibly be closed and was therefore misled. The lawyers have said that the suit would be dropped if the diocese decided to reopen the church.

Regardless of how the courts might decide the case, do you believe the diocese has a responsibility to return the land to the family now that the church is being closed? Or is it fair for the diocese to do what it pleases with the land since it was a gift?

Here's how I reported some reader responses in a column later that summer:

My readers are split on whether the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston should return land donated by the Maffei family in 1946, now that it has closed the church on the land.

"In principle that gift was donated to the church," writes Bert Hoogendam of Sarnia, Ontario, "and from there on that property belongs to the church with no strings attached."

Innocent Udenkwo of Lagos, Nigeria, agrees: "A gift is a gift," he writes. "It is voluntary, without conditions, cannot be returned."

On the other hand, Elizabeth Stern of Lake Forest, Calif., disagrees.

"If the church is not going to stay on the land that was given to them, even after all of these years," she writes, "then they should give back the money/land to the Maffei family." "If the donation was made for a church, and only for a church," writes Veronica Ross of Garden Grove, Calif., "then yes, the church should return the land."

Finally, David Whitemyer of Boston takes a philosophical approach.

"They donated it," he writes. "They gave it away. It's not theirs anymore. The world changes. Bummer."

Today, Friday, May 25, 2007, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts found in favor of the Archdiocese of Boston and said it was within its rights to sell the St. James the Great Church and its assets after it was closed. The case had previously been dismissed by a Suffolk Superior Court judge. The SJC ruling today upholds that judge's earlier ruling.

You can read two reports about today's ruling at Archdiocese can sell Wellesley church and SJC rules that archdiocese has authority to close church.

[Updated on Saturday, May 26, with link to SJC won't intervene in church closing, The Boston Globe's more detailed coverage of the ruling.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I will be brave and post a comment! I wonder if there was more going on than the family wanting the land back? A local church was closed a couple of years ago, here in Columbus, Ohio, despite a full congregation every mass. The church was an older church, really quite beautiful, but over time the area became less affluent. Therefore, the congregation was more poor than it had once been, so the Catholic church closed the doors, much to the dismay of the community.

Meanwhile, in another, very affluent area of town a multi million dollar church was built at the same time. The new church is spectacular! The congregation in the older church wonders why the new church couldn't have been toned down somewhat and some of those funds used to maintain the older church. The older church is at a different end of town, so it is not as if the congregation is meant to join the new church.

Perhaps the donating family was using this tactic to force the Catholic Diocese to keep the Church open so it could serve the congregation? Maybe they felt, like many people do, that all too often it seems easier to throw away the old, historical buildings, and invest in new buildings. America is noted for this in many areas, and it is sad. We will never have the same sense of history in our cities that European cities do because the older buildings will all be gone as they make way for more and more skyscrapers, or subdivisions.

The closing of of an older church as reinforces the idea that the Catholic Diocese is all about the bottom line, not what is best for the flock. Also a sad thought.

Just my two cents worth.