WELLSVILLE - On Thursday evening, parishioners of the shuttered Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Wellsville heard news they have been praying for since last July. Beverly Hentzell, spokeswoman for the Committee to Save Immaculate Conception Church, announced that their appeal against the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown over the closing of ICC has been accepted.
"I do believe that God answers prayers, and the faithful have been praying religiously," she said.
The committee received a decree from the Vatican Congregation of the Clergy on Aug. 13 stating that the Youngstown Diocese had not provided adequate justification for closing the church. "The Congregation finds that documentation of sufficient grave motivation ad rem is completely lacking," according to the decree, which is signed by Mauro Piacenza, prefect of the Congregation of the Clergy.
Morning Journal/Richard Sberna
Dolly Brophey (left) holds a copy of the Vatican decree that has given members of the Committee to Save Immaculate Conception Church new hope. Gathering with her on the steps of ICC are the other three signatories of the original appeal, Kenny Biacco, Beverly Hentzell and Tom Brophey.
It was not a total victory for committee members, however. Their request to overturn a planned merger of ICC with St. Aloysius Church in East Liverpool, now known as Holy Trinity Church, was denied, with the Congregation judging the diocese's merger plan as justified.
Hentzell said the decree came as something of a surprise to committee members, with their advocate at the Vatican in Rome, Peter Borre, advising them not to expect a decision until autumn at the earliest. As to a timetable for having the church reopened to parishioners, Hentzell expressed cautious optimism. "We're hopeful that we can work with the bishop and have it open as soon as possible," she said.
"We are anxious to be back in his fold in the Youngstown Diocese, so we will continue to pray," Dolly Brophey said.
A press release issued by the Youngstown Diocese, which also received a copy of the decree, was not welcoming of the decision. It disputes the Congregation's claim that the diocese did not provide sufficient justification to close ICC. "Therefore, (Bishop George Murry, archbishop of the Youngstown Diocese) will exercise his right to appeal to the Apostolic Signatura in accordance with the norms of the law," it states.
The release goes on to say the decree did not specifically direct the diocese to reopen ICC and that the church will remain closed during the appeal process.
For now, however, Hentzell said parishioners of the church have something to celebrate. "This is really what we hoped for, just to open the doors and have Mass again," she said.