'Spiritual refugees' feel the loss of closed Catholic churches in Seattle. Some are appealing to the Vatican

Nina Shapiro, The Seattle Times on

Published in Religious News

Maqueda said he has lost trust in the archdiocese.

"The Latino community was ignored from day one," said Maqueda, who emigrated from Mexico.

When the archdiocese announced its initial intention to close St. Mary, it offered a plan to merge with St. Therese without mentioning where those attending Spanish Mass could go.

When it became clear some Spanish- and English-speakers were offended — St. Mary prided itself on forging a unique, bilingual community — the archdiocese offered another choice: St. Edward Catholic Church, a church under Connolly's domain in Columbia City, which has a Spanish Mass.

Some were put off, however, when they heard the pastoral council of lay leaders overseeing Connolly's four churches would have no openings until 2023, when current members' terms expired.

Most St. Mary parishioners indicated in a survey they would prefer to merge with St. Therese, which they viewed as more welcoming, according to John Reid, who started going to St. Mary in 1986.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced churches to stop meeting in-person, he helped organized a Zoom prayer service. It's still going strong, part of what is keeping many in the St. Mary community together despite the closure.

For the moment, Reid said, "That's the spiritual community that I'm putting energy into."

McClenahan, the archdiocese spokesperson, said Catholic church closures across the country indicate some attrition is inevitable.

"A lot of times, the people who leave do eventually come back," she said.


Continuing to fight

That's assuming the closures are a done deal.

From the start, some parishioners were determined to fight. Therese Bianchi and Diana Sciola-Warczak, for instance, helped organize a surge of interest among Seattle's Italian Americans to save Our Lady of Mount Virgin, drawing some 200 to a meeting with a bishop, they said.

The archdiocese didn't really listen, Sciola-Warczak said. "It was basically all monologue."

Likewise, despite a series of meetings with affected parishioners, the St. Patrick's appeal complains of a "predetermined outcome" and St. Mary's of a decision "imposed upon us from above."

The appeals, formally known as "recourses," give parishioners one more chance to lay out their cases — and to argue their church communities have been vital, even if relatively small in numbers.

Churches around the country on occasion have won such appeals, those filing them here say. But the Vatican in June denied an appeal of Etienne's decision to merge Tacoma's Holy Rosary and St. Ann parishes, an interim step in a larger July 1 merger taking in two additional parishes.

Still, Seattle parishioners say they're not giving up.

Aurora Antipolo, who used to worship at St. Mary and now goes to the weekly prayers outside the archdiocese chancery, said:"I am hoping for a miracle."

(c)2022 The Seattle Times Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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