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BOSTON-The largest volume of Roman Catholic parish property sales in US history will result from a massive reconfiguration of the Boston Archdiocese unveiled yesterday by Archbishop Sean O’Malley. The archdiocese will close 65 of its 357 parishes. The plan calls for shuttering 60 churches in the closed parishes and leaving five open as worship sites. The Archdiocese encompasses 144 Massachusetts cities and towns surrounding Boston.

Schools at St. Peter’s in South Boston and at Our Lady of the Presentation Parish in Brighton will be closed, and schools at St. William and St. Margaret in Dorchester will merge as will those two churches. South Boston’s St. Augustine Church, a grand, cathedral-like structure built in 1868, is also among the doomed. Implementation of the parish closings will begin at a meeting of the clergy at St. Julia Parish in Weston Thursday. “Within a week or so,” the ill-fated parishes will receive notification of their dates of closing.

Wary of past criticism of real estate transactions by the diocese, David Smith, a financial officer and chancellor of the archdiocese, says the properties will be appraised and marketed by independent brokers and sales will be approved by two committees, each with heavy representation by lay people. In addition, the Vatican must approve sales of parish properties valued at more than $2.5 million.

In making the announcement, Archbishop O’Malley attributes the “radical reconfiguration of the archdiocese” to changes in population, an exodus from cities to the suburbs, and a decrease in the number of active Catholics. “The decision to close the parishes is in no way connected with the need to finance the legal settlement with the victims of clergy sexual abuse,” he said, adding “no money from the future sales of parish assets will be used to pay for the settlement.” Last month’s sale of the former archbishop’s residence and surrounding land to Boston College for $107 million more than covered the $90-million sexual abuse settlement.

O’Malley also says that more than one third of the existing parishes in the archdiocese are operating in the red. The deterioration of parish buildings and churches in Boston alone, he adds, would cost more than $100 million to repair. Funds from the sale of parishes, he says, will “allow us to financially support as needed the parishes and schools that do remain in the archdiocese as well as to recapitalize our pension and medical funds.”

Bishop Richard Lennon directed the reconfiguration process. The parishes will be closed gradually through the end of this year.

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