WELLESLEY - Kathleen Daly said she appreciates the historic natureof this week's visit to the United States by Pope Benedict XVI, but sheis not looking forward to the occasion with the fondness she feltduring a visit by Pope John Paul II.
Dalyis among a group of area Catholics who will observe this visit in thecontext of a battle with local church leadership over the preservationof their parishes.
"I don't feel the warmth," Daly said yesterdaywhile sitting in a pew at St. James the Great in Wellesley, afterleaders of protests at that occupied parish and several others in theregion called on the pope to take up their cause during his visit.
"What has happened in the last 3 1/2 years has certainly colored my view" of Catholic church leadership, Daly said.
Citingdeclining membership and finances, among other concerns, church leadershave sought to close many churches in recent years. Even without thesupport of the larger church, some parishes have refused to shut down.
Hopingto seize on attention to the pope's visit to Washington and New Yorkthis week, some members of area parishes that have been closed ormarked for closure by the Archdiocese of Boston and the Springfielddiocese addressed reporters yesterday at St. James the Great, which hasfought a closure order since October 2004.
The event was attendedby leaders of protests from two other parishes the Boston Archdiocesehas attempted to close, St. Jeremiah's in Framingham and St. Francis XCabrini in Scituate. Also present were a representative of Holy Trinity(German) Church in the South End, which is slated to close; andrepresentatives of two closed parishes which are not being occupied,St. Michael the Archangel in Lynn, and St. Francis Chapel in Lee, whichwas part of the Springfield diocese.
The event coincided with apress conference in New York at which organizers announced theformation of a national support group of Catholics opposed to thechurch closings.
Organizers said the national Coalition ofParishes, formed by disaffected Catholics in the Boston area; New York;Camden, N.J.; and New Orleans, will offer support and advice onnavigating legal challenges to parish closures. Boston-area opponentsto parish closings, who refer to themselves as vigilers because somegroups have occupied their parishes for more than three years, "haveinvaluable experience in these matters," said Suzanne Hurley, a leaderof the vigil at St. James the Great.
Archdiocesan spokesmanTerrence C. Donilon called for unity among Catholics in anticipation ofthe pontiff's visit, tying the protesters' pleas to Pope Benedict'stheme for his visit, hope.
"We are not surprised that many peoplehave many hopes that they want to share with the Holy Father," Donilonsaid in an e-mail. "We see this as a time for Catholics in ourArchdiocese and throughout the country to come together to listen toand to pray for and support the Holy Father."
At the pressconference, some of the speakers appealed directly to Benedict. Whilethe Vatican has indicated the pope will address the clergy sexual abusecrisis, protesters said they do not expect him to mention parishclosings.
"It is our hope that he will address the failure ofCatholic hierarchy with more clarity and compassion than has been shownso far," Hurley said. "It is time for him to put an end to the closingprocesses currently underway, reopen the churches in vigil, and enablelaity to be a part of the solution."
John W. Salisbury, a memberof Holy Trinity (German) Church, offered a two-part message toBenedict. He said he hopes the pontiff lives a long life and has aprosperous tenure.
"And the second message is, 'Help.' "