"Messing around with parishes in America is the third rail (for the Catholic church)," Borre said. "They are the franchises built up over the years. That's extremely destructive."
Another speaker, Louise Lutz of St. Leo's Church in Tully, said the diocese broke up a "natural" connection between her rural church and one in Otisco as part of the reconfiguration plan. Otisco children attend Tully schools, so the two communities have developed a solid connection. But the diocese decided to remove Otisco and connect it with a parish in another area, she said.
The rest of the plan is for St. Leo's church to close and parishioners to attend a church to be built in Lafayette for Catholics from Tully, Fabius, Pompey and Lafayette.
This goes against the values of rural America, Lutz said, because it destroys resources, such as old churches, and forces rural residents into more suburban-type settings, which is not where they have chosen to live and worship.
Many speakers cited the estimated 30 percent loss of parishioners when churches close or merge with another.
"We came to the conclusion that this is just unacceptable This makes the diocesan plan morally unconscionable," Lutz said. "We are supposed to be fishers of men, not drowners of men."
Attendees included at least three priests from churches in the diocese. The Reverend Tim Taugher, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi, a newly combined parish in Binghamton, said after the meeting, "It's important for us to have dialogue with the bishop. We need to study what has happened We're hoping that there are other options so we can have viable communities."
The meeting was organized by representatives of 12 parishes and the Action Committee of St. Andrew the Apostle Church, which was closed in January to merge with St. Lucy's, also in Syracuse. The petition, cover letter, and Borre's 18-page "manifesto," which asks the Vatican for mediation about church closings in the U.S., are available at the group's Web site: standrewsactionsyr.weekly.com.