Catholics on the Burin Peninsula were already troubled by insolvency. Now they lose their priest

Father Nelson Boren is a Roman Catholic priest who ministers in five churches on the Burin Peninsula, with his main church in St. Lawrence. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Roman Catholics in rural southern Newfoundland have for months felt stress — and anger — over the uncertain fate of their churches and other properties, and the very future of their religious communities.

Today, parishioners in the St. Lawrence area, a town on the island’s Burin Peninsula, face a new and troubling reality: they are losing their outspoken priest, Father Nelson Boren, with little hope to be replaced.

“We’ve faced a lot of adversity over the years, like any parish,” said Jim Etchegary, administrative assistant at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in St. Lawrence.

“But it now threatens to shut down our parish, or at least decimate it to the point where we are a shadow of what we always were.”

As Boren, 46, prepares to say goodbye, he speaks out – against the wishes of his superiors – and expresses his frustration with the situation in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John’s as he deals with insolvency and massive liabilities from a sex abuse scandal at the Mount Cashel orphanage.

After more than six years as a priest on the southern tip of the Burin Peninsula, Boren has announced he will be taking indefinite leave at the end of this month and removing his clerical collar.

His project ?

To partner with other members of the Filipino community and establish a pizza franchise in the St. John’s area so he can earn more money and treat his ailing back.

“I’m just quitting my active ministry to focus on my health to ease my back pain and get the job done as well,” Boren said.

“The parishioners did not commit sexual abuse”

Clergy, including Archbishop Peter Hundt, have largely avoided the media spotlight since the archdiocese announced late last year that it had obtained legal protection from creditors in order to sell churches and other properties.

Money raised from sales will be used to help pay millions of dollars in claims from victims of abuse perpetrated by Christian brothers at the former Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John’s.

The Saint-Thomas d’Aquin Roman Catholic Church in Saint-Laurent opened in 1967. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

But Boren was not shy about expressing his views.

In March, he wrote a letter to The Telegram newspaper in which he questioned the propriety of selling church assets.

Boren wrote that the victims deserve compensation, but said that “the use of parish assets which the parishioners themselves helped set up should not be used to pay the victims. The parishioners do not did not commit the sexual abuse; others perpetrated it, not them.”

Recently, Boren broke ranks again by agreeing to an interview with CBC News, saying he felt a moral obligation to share his story and be a voice for Catholics who raised their concerns with him.

Jim Etchegary says “there is quite a bit of disillusionment” as the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John’s goes through the process of insolvency and sells church properties to compensate victims of abuse. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

“People don’t understand why they are repaying the sins of people who have contributed to sexual abuse cases in the past,” he said in a wide interview at St. Aquinas.

“The parishioners are hurt and they say they are also victims of another form of abuse.”

Back pain and financial difficulties

Boren, who began preparing for the priesthood in 1994, came to Canada a decade ago and was ordained at St. John’s Basilica in St. John’s in 2015.

So why does he make such a life-changing decision?

First, he said ministry to five churches along a 50-mile stretch of rugged road between St. Lawrence and Point May took its toll on him.

But the ongoing upheaval in the archdiocese and the effects it has had on his financial situation and his ability to support his family in the Philippines are also important in his decision.

Boren said his financial situation is so dire that “I can’t even go home if there’s an emergency right now,” and he doesn’t want to ask the parish for a raise because it’s already struggling to pay the bills.

As part of the ongoing restructuring, Boren said, her monthly income has dropped by about $300. Indeed, a host of expenses previously borne by the parish, such as the heating and lighting of the priest’s residence, are now included as taxable benefits on his income.

Sarah Slaney thinks Roman Catholics in St. Lawrence may no longer be able to afford to operate St. Thomas Aquinas Church, which opened in 1967. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

Boren said these changes were dictated by the trustee overseeing the insolvency process, without any input from the priests, and he was unhappy with the process.

“The impact of what the priests lose is part of their salary due to the high income and then their take home pay is reduced. So it’s a huge amount,” Boren said.

Shrinking and aging congregations

Meanwhile, as Boren prepares for a dramatic new chapter in his life, the church congregations he leaves behind wonder how they will cope with the immense challenges ahead.

The court-supervised liquidation process has so far focused on prime properties in the St. John’s area, with potential buyers having until early June to submit offers.

In some cases, special committees at the parish level have been formed to raise funds in hopes of presenting a competitive bid on their own churches, knowing that they might be outbid by someone with deeper pockets with money. other plans for these places of worship.

Future phases of the bidding process will include church properties on the Burin Peninsula, and many have struggled to understand how it got there, especially since the first sex scandals involving priests and Christian brothers broke out in the late 1980s.

The church should have settled with the victims long ago, they say, and the struggle to delay the inevitable has left many angry with church leaders.

“It shook my faith from the standpoint of the inaction that happened years ago,” said Sarah Slaney, a St. Thomas Aquinas devotee.

“We always feel great empathy for victims of abuse, and it has gone on for far too long.”

Meanwhile, even before a court ruled that the archdiocese was vicariously liable for abuses at Mount Cashel, churches were grappling with dwindling and aging congregations, and an exodus of worshipers driven by various abuse scandals, including convictions of priests.

Nelson Boren began preparing for the priesthood in 1994 while living in the Philippines and was ordained in St. John’s in 2015. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

At Saint-Thomas d’Aquin in Saint-Laurent, for example, the current church opened in 1967 and could accommodate up to 400 parishioners. Today, a weekend service attracts about 50 people, in a community of some 900 registered Catholics.

It is equally dark in even smaller churches at Lawn, Lord’s Cove, Lamaline and Point May.

Closures, consolidation a reality

It’s hard for those who are so dedicated to their church to envision a future in which it might close and be converted into a warehouse or a bed and breakfast, but that’s the reality in St. Lawrence and elsewhere.

Having people low on the totem pole paying for the sins of the father doesn’t sit well with someone I spoke to.-Jim Etchegary

Jim Etchegary and others envision a scenario where St. Thomas Aquinas is desecrated and sold, and the smaller parish hall is purchased from the administrator by the church community.

The church hall will be cheaper to operate, can generate revenue by hosting community events, and can also host church services, Etchegary said.

“For people low on the totem pole to pay for the sins of the father, that doesn’t sit well with anyone I’ve spoken to. But I mean, that’s the reality we face and we have to face it. as best we can and try to salvage what we can from our parish,” he said.

Patrick and Melinda Lundrigan are members of St. Elizabeth’s Roman Catholic Church in Lord’s Cove on the Burin Peninsula. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

But members of the faith may have to get used to worshiping without the services of a priest.

“Archbishop Hundt has made it clear that he just doesn’t have another priest to send here full-time right now. So that’s just another issue we’re going to have to deal with,” Etchegary said. .

Remember the victims, says the archbishop

Hundt declined a request for an interview, but in a statement, “we must keep in mind that the purpose of this process is to provide compensation due to victims of abuse at Mount Cashel.”

He acknowledged that the sale of churches has “significant implications” for the Catholic community and that a restructuring strategy will evolve from the ongoing liquidation process.

“I sincerely hope that the way forward will bring healing to the victims, their loved ones and the entire community of faith, and close a dark chapter in the history of our archdiocese,” Hundt said in a statement.

But some Catholics fear the church may never recover.

“I’m afraid the Catholic Church in Newfoundland is imploding,” said Patrick Lundrigan, 82, a lifelong Catholic living in Lord’s Cove.

“It’s going to explode on itself with what happened.”

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