“Spiritual refugees” feel the loss of closed Catholic churches in Seattle. Some appeal to the Vatican |

SEATTLE — For the past three Sundays, a few dozen people gathering to pray at Mount Baker have gathered outside a locked church door.

As for the Archdiocese of Seattle, Our Lady of Mount Virgin Catholic Church was one of two churches that closed July 1 as part of a heartbreaking consolidation effort from Tacoma to Everett that also included the closing of a third Seattle church on September 1.

But a group continues to come to Notre-Dame du Mont-Vierge, standing on the porch or the sidewalk to say prayers, sing and keep the spirit of the 1918 church alive.

“We don’t want to go anywhere,” said Mansak Douangdala, who started attending church shortly after arriving in the Seattle area from Laos in 1981.

He said his daughter was married there, he and others attended church for many funerals, and some had their names on a wall because of the money contributed to the improvement buildings.

Parishioners at this Seattle church and two others have enlisted canon law experts to appeal the closures. But the archdiocese resists while the Catholic Church is grappling with multiple crises affecting the Catholic Church: drop in attendance, especially among young people; a frightening shortage of priests; worsening revelations of priest abuse leading to multi-million dollar settlements; and debates on same-sex marriage, female priests and abortion. (All of this is against the teachings and practices of the church.)

These appeals go first to Bishop Paul Etienne, then, if he does not change his mind, to the Vatican. Members of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in the Central District, the second place of worship closed this month, also filed an appeal, as did parishioners of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in North Capitol Hill, which is expected to close in September.

Etienne has already reaffirmed his decisions regarding Our Lady of the Virgin Mary and St. Mary, and the Vatican is expected to take three months or more to issue a decision on the appeals. In the meantime, church properties cannot be sold or demolished.

Eventually, the archdiocese says, the assets of St. Mary and St. Patrick will flow to the parishes they merged with — to use or sell as they see fit. Everyone wants St. Mary’s heavily used food bank to keep operating, archdiocese spokeswoman Helen McClenahan said.

For obscure reasons, the archdiocese controls the property of Notre-Dame du Mont-Vierge, whose future is not yet clear. Conversations are ongoing about what to do with the church and surrounding lands, including possibly housing Catholic social service programs there, McClenahan said.

More changes are underway in the archdiocese, which claims 600,000 members in western Washington. Etienne earlier this year announced an initiative that will look top-down at how the church could be more effective, according to McClenahan. The effort will involve grassroots members of the church, she said, not just leaders, and “each parish so that there are no communities that feel singled out.”

Additional closures are possible, McClenahan said.

Those affected so far are coping in a variety of ways. Some have moved to other parishes. Others attend alternate worship services or, in the case of a small St. Mary’s group, gather weekly outside the Archdiocese’s Downtown Seattle Chancery on Ninth Avenue in a sort of prayerful protest. At least one former parishioner is taking a break from organized religion.

“There’s still a lot of grief, I think, in the community and anger,” said Deacon Greg McNabb of St. Therese’s Catholic Church, the Madrona parish that subsumed St. Mary’s, by decree of l ‘archbishop. “We try to raise awareness, but [also] just kind of allowing people to be where they are, and not feeling any pressure to make a choice, not at this point anyway.”

McNabb said about 20 to 30 people have come from St. Mary’s so far, which has about 375 households among its members. Two-thirds of them attended a mass in Spanish, which Sainte Thérèse did not have.

“You don’t know where everybody went,” said Larry Pitre, a former parishioner of St. Mary’s who now attends Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in the Central District, which he considers more multicultural than St. Therese. . “You just know now they’re moved.”

Lisa Dennison, a St. Patrick parishioner, speaks in similar terms: “Some of us feel more like spiritual refugees in some ways because we’re being forced out of our homes,” she said.

Too many buildings, too few priests

The archdiocese says it has no choice but to close the churches.

Despite Western Washington’s population boom in recent decades, Mass attendance has fallen 18% between 2000 and 2021, and 23% in the South Seattle area, at the center of Seattle’s consolidation .

Meanwhile, some of the archdiocese’s 100 active priests serve two, three or even four church communities. And the archdiocese estimates that in 15 years it will only have 67 priests (not counting Jesuits or others outside its authority) to serve about twice as many parishes.

Many churches, although historic and beautiful, were built close to each other during a time when people walked to mass. This is no longer the case, this provision is not sustainable, argues the archdiocese.

“We simply cannot continue with the status quo,” Etienne said in a statement as he ordered St. Patrick’s Parish to merge with St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Capitol Hill.

Some parishioners accept the change.

Joseph Tseng, president of the Chinese Catholic community in Seattle, said about 50 members who worshiped at Our Lady of Mount Virgin – a multi-ethnic parish founded by Italian Americans that later attracted successive waves of immigrants – received a warm welcome in Saint-Pierre. Church on Beacon Hill. A once-retired Taiwanese priest leads a mass in Chinese there.

The community’s desire, however, has been to find a parish house in the Eastside, where many live. It’s becoming a reality: Tseng’s group announced last week an agreement with St. Monica’s Catholic Church on Mercer Island to hold a Chinese-language Mass there, pending the archbishop’s approval.

“I can’t say enough how grateful and lucky we are,” Tseng said, adding that his group’s faith in the archdiocese has been rewarded.

Reverend Scott Connolly, who serves at St. Peter and three other south Seattle and Skyway churches, said other refugees from Our Lady of Mount Virgin and St. Mary have arrived in his parishes, including no less than 200 Vietnamese speakers from the closed church of Mount Baker.

Longtime St. Mary’s parishioner Felipe Maqueda, on the other hand, said he was not rushing to another church. When it came time for mass on the first Sunday after St. Mary’s closed, he busied himself with his indoor plants.

“I’m taking time to process what just happened,” he said.

Maqueda said he had lost faith in the archdiocese.

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

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

When it became clear that some Spanish and English speakers were offended — St. Mary’s boasted of forging a unique bilingual community — the archdiocese offered another choice: St. Edward’s Catholic Church, a church under the Connolly Estate in Columbia City, which has a Spanish Mass.

Some, however, were put off when they heard that the pastoral council of lay leaders overseeing Connolly’s four churches would not have any openings until 2023, when the terms of current members expired.

Most St. Mary’s parishioners indicated in a poll that they would prefer to merge with St. Therese, which they saw as more welcoming, according to John Reid, who started visiting St. Mary’s in 1986.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced churches to stop meeting in person, he helped organize a Zoom prayer service. It continues to be strong, part of what keeps many members of the St. Mary community together despite the closure.

For now, Reid said, “It’s the spiritual community that I put energy into.”

McClenahan, the archdiocesan spokesman, said the closures of Catholic churches across the country indicate some attrition is inevitable.

“A lot of times people who leave end up coming back,” she said.

keep on fighting

This assumes that the closings are a done deal.

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

The archdiocese didn’t really listen, Sciola-Warczak said. “It was basically a monologue.”

Likewise, despite a series of meetings with affected parishioners, St. Patrick’s appeal complains of a “predetermined outcome” and St. Mary’s of a decision “imposed on us from above”.

The appeals, officially known as “appeals”, give parishioners one more chance to state their cases – and to argue that their church communities have been vital, even if they are relatively small in number.

Churches across the country have occasionally won such appeals, say those who file them here. But the Vatican in June rejected an appeal of Stephen’s decision to merge the parishes of St. Rosary and St. Anne of Tacoma, an interim step in a broader July 1 merger that takes into account two additional parishes.

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

Aurora Antipolo, who worshiped at St. Mary’s and now goes to weekly prayers outside the Archdiocesan Chancery, said: “I’m hoping for a miracle.”


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