St. Mary in Jamesville wins appeal, diocese has final say

Will St. Mary Church in Jamesville reopen?

That in large part depends on Bishop Robert Cunningham of the Syracuse Catholic Diocese.

Last week, parishioners of St. Mary, who appealed the 2007 church closing, heard back from the Vatican's highest court within three days of a May 21 hearing in Rome.

The news was hopeful: the Apostolic Signatura found that the church of St. Mary cannot be deconsecrated, or used for secular purposes, but rather it must be maintained as a Catholic worship site.

The Vatican's decree, however, is open to interpretation and Cunningham has enough latitude to accept or reject the Vatican's advice, according to Matthew Loveland, assistant professor of sociology at Le Moyne College.

"The local church will look at the ruling then make a decision about what that ruling means in terms of how they're going to run their diocese," he said. "In some ways, it's sort of like a recommendation more than it is a demand."

If Cunningham obeys the Vatican's ruling, there are different models that could be incorporated, such as having laypeople rather than a resident priest operate the parish, which is a legitimate practice under Canon Law, the legal system of the Vatican.

Since the reconfiguration process began under former bishop James Moynihan, Loveland said he thinks there is a small possibility that Cunningham, who was installed in 2009, could make some changes. Yet, there are still a finite number of presbyters, he added, "and [the diocese] has shown through its policies that they would really prefer parishes to have a resident, local priest, because they think that makes for a better parish."

Still, this case provides an opening for the Syracuse Catholic Diocese to try a new approach.

"The bishop has an opportunity here to really win some people over. I think [by] working to do that, it would be perceived as a really great thing by a lot of Catholics at a number of parishes, not just Jamesville." Loveland said. "At the same time, the local church really is dealing with legitimate and serious numbers issues."

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