A Vatican legal body has weighed in on a battle waging between a small church in unincorporated Adams County and the Archdiocese of Denver, siding with the latter after it closed the predominantly Hispanic church in spring 2017.
The Congregation for the Clergy, which decides procedural questions for the Catholic Church, said in a letter to Our Lady of Visitation's congregants that it agreed with Archbishop Samuel Aquila's decision to shutter the church and fold it into the nearby larger Holy Trinity. But OLV's congregants aren't entirely disappointed with the decision: The Clergy also ruled that OLV is a quasi-parish and entitled to two masses per year, including one on the day that OLV was founded, and said that the small chapel in the Goat Hill neighborhood could be used for other religious purposes to be decided and overseen by Holy Trinity's head priest.
OLV congregants were hoping the Archdiocese of Denver would honor the decision and supply a priest for a mass to be held December 24, some seventy years after church lore says it was dedicated. But spokesman Mark Haas says the archdiocese didn't have enough time to prepare the abandoned church for a mass.
"All the stuff in the ruling is going to happen," Haas says. "There's just a semi-new priest at Holy Trinity. He met with [OLV's congregants] and couldn't provide an exact date for the service. There's things they have to do to get the church ready."
So instead, congregants will meet Christmas Eve at the church at 2531 West 65th Place for a posada procession that will begin at 5 p.m. at the east end of the street and end in front of the church. The public is invited, and hot chocolate and bizcochitos will be served.
Formed in the wake of the church's closure, the Goat Hill Catholic Society has been pressuring the archdiocese to reopen the church and had appealed to the Vatican for help.
Head of the society and longtime OLV member Sandra Garcia says the committee plans on appealing the Congregation for the Clergy's decision to the Apostolic Signatura, the Supreme Court of the Catholic Church.
"The only good thing that came out of the Congregation for Clergy decree is that a quasi-parish is a parish and that we're entitled to masses," Garcia explains.
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Congregants had been concerned that the archdiocese closed the church in order to sell the land to a developer. The attorney helping OLV, Sister Kate Kuenstler, told us back in February that archdioceses around the U.S. had been shuttering smaller, predominantly ethnic parishes for years to cover legal fees that have amassed from sexual-abuse lawsuits involving priests ("Catholic Church Shutters Beloved Hispanic Parish in North Denver"). Although the archdiocese declined to speak with us at the time, Haas now says that it never intended to sell off OLV's land.
According to Kuenstler, Rome has never sided with a parish when it's appealed its archdiocese's decision.
OLV members were hopeful they'd be the first, but the Congregation for the Clergy letter indicates that they face yet another hurdle. "We should have always been entitled to two masses, but now we have a decree," Garcia says. "We're going to do everything we can to enforce this while we appeal the merger."
As the Apostolic Signatura considers OLV's request, Haas says the archdiocese will fulfill the Congregation for the Clergy's decision as best it can, with the first OLV mass to be held sometime in early 2019. "We're just asking for their patience," Haas says.