WELLSVILLE - Former parishioners of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Wellsville gathered at the Sons of Italy Lodge 657 in the village Thursday night to hear the latest news on the continuing fight to reopen their shuttered church.
This past July, the Congregation for the Clergy of the Vatican issued a decree overruling the decision of the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown that closed ICC in July of 2011, stating that the church should be "opened for occasional worship and devotional visits" by parishioners. Members of the Committee to Save Immaculate Conception Church had traveled to Youngstown on Oct. 19 for talks with representatives from the diocese.
A memorandum from that meeting outlines a settlement from Bishop George V. Murry, head of the Youngstown Diocese, to the committee. The terms include an allowance of one Mass per year, to be celebrated each Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. In addition, ICC would be open for one hour each week, at a time of the diocese's choosing, for recitations of the Rosary and other devotions.
Otherwise, former parishioners would be expected to attend Holy Trinity Parish, formerly known as St. Aloysius Church in East Liverpool, and to contribute weekly offerings to both Holy Trinity Church and towards the upkeep of the ICC building and property, which is owned by the diocese.
Monsignor Michael Cariglio, one of the diocesan representatives at the meeting, drafted the memo. Towards the end of the document, Cariglio encourages former parishioners to respect the bishop's authority as head of the diocese, suggesting that their acceptance of the settlement, "could well open up other options in the future."
Beverly Hentzell, a spokeswoman for the committee, shared the contents of a letter of reply sent to Bishop Murry on Thursday. In the letter, committee members Hentzell, Dolly Brophey, Frank Benedetto and Kenny Biacco, accuse the bishop of "approaching the ICC faith community not in the spirit of Christian understanding, but with an adversarial and minimalist attitude" and reject the settlement as "completely unacceptable."
The letter also offers a counter-proposal to the diocese, requesting weekly sacramentals and one Mass per weekend, as well as on Holy Days of Obligation, and for baptisms, weddings and funerals.
For Hentzell, evidence of the bishop's attitude is found not only in the narrow terms of the diocese settlement, but in how they would be implemented, not taking effect until Jan. 1, 2013. With the proposed single yearly Mass to be held on Dec. 8, parishioners would be forced to wait until December 2013 before gathering to worship again at ICC.
Hentzell says that many former ICC parishioners are elderly and have trouble getting around. With limited parking at Holy Trinity and the next closest Catholic churches in Midland, Pa., or Chester, W.Va., many of them stay home on Sundays and watch Mass on TV instead.
It's not merely a question of convenience for those former parishioners, Hentzell says; it's also a question of time. "They may not have 14 months to wait for a Mass," she said. Hentzell became emotional when speaking of a 90-year-old man whose wife and daughter have both passed away since the final Mass at the church in July 2011. Both funeral services had to be held elsewhere.
"Where's the compassion?" she said.
Hentzell says former parishioners only feel they're asking to have back what is rightfully theirs. "Generations have built that church," she said, "and generations continued to go to that church."
When contacted for comment on the letter from the committee, the diocese said the bishop's office had yet to receive it.