Months after the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford put in place a sweeping reorganization plan throughout its territory, some parishioners are still fighting to preserve the communities they know and love.
Martin and Dee Ethier, Gary and Joyce Giannelli and Suzanne Allen appealed to Catholic Church leaders in Rome earlier this year in opposition to Archbishop Leonard P. Blair's pastoral plan, which launched a series of mergers and closures of parishes across three counties in the archdiocese.
And although their initial appeal was rejected, the group is planning to further advance their case to the Apostolic Signatura, the highest judicial authority in the Catholic Church, which functions similar to the Supreme Court.
In Glastonbury, St. Paul and St. Augustine parishes were among the 140 consolidated as part of Blair’s plan. Both church buildings are still in use, but fewer weekend Masses and opportunities for confession are being offered.
The Ethiers and Giannellis were parishioners at the former St. Augustine and Allen was a parishioner at the former St. Paul. The group pursued the appeal independent from the congregation, though have since received support from some other parishioners.
The group’s first appeal was rejected by the Congregation for the Clergy, the office at The Holy See responsible for the formation, ministry and life of priests and deacons.
The congregation upheld Blair’s decision in a letter dated Oct. 13, arguing that parishioners had the opportunity to provide input in the process, that Mass attendance has steadily decreased at both parishes over the years, and that St. Augustine’s financial stability may help bolster St. Paul’s finances, among other points.
The parishioners have called into question whether proper procedure was followed by archdiocesan leaders in developing the pastoral plan, as well as whether the merger in Glastonbury was the best decision for the parishes involved.
Joy Giannelli said they’re motivated to continue with the appeal because of how they have seen their parish community impacted by the merger.
“You’re trying to survive in your new community … [and] the energy you used to have … is not there anymore,” Joy Giannelli said.
“I’m sensing a whole big loss of hope,” she said. “The appeal is the only thing that gives them hope.”
Moving forward requires that the group shell out as much as $7,000, which includes a filing fee and the cost of hiring a procurator-advocate, who will argue the case on the group’s behalf.
Gary Giannelli said other parishioners have donated to the cause, but he would not reveal how much the group had collected so far, aside from saying they have almost reached their goal.
It's not unusual for a recourse case at that stage to take up to two years to resolve.
Blair issued a decree formally deconsecrating Waterbury's St. Margaret of Scotland in May, after announcing the parish would close and be merged with five other parishes in the city to form All Saints/Todos Los Santos parish, making use of the church buildings of St. Anne and Our Lady of Lourdes.
Under canon law, a church cannot serve secular purposes, like a restaurant, without first being relegated, or deconsecrated.
Parishioners of St. Margaret of Scotland filed an appeal in June to church leaders in Rome, seeking to override the deconsecration decree. Robert Flummerfelt, the Las Vegas-based canon lawyer handling the appeal, has said that no decision had been made and that the appeal was still pending before the Congregation for the Clergy.
Courant Staff Writer Ken Byron contributed to this report.