Cops guard the pews as O’Shea says last Mass at Montserrat

Lightning rod! Church goers say Diocese closed Montserrat because of outspoken pastor
Community Newspaper Group / Aaron Short

The Brooklyn Diocese called in a strong show of police force on Sunday outside a beloved Bedford-Stuyvesant chapel that the church hierarchy closed in a controversial move.

Church officials apparently were worried about a large, and angry, crowd attending the last Mass at Our Lady of Montserrat, which the Diocese shuttered for good on Monday in what supporters say is payback for a pastor’s opposition to the Diocese on several political issues.

The renegade priest, Father Jim O’Shea, was on hand for the final rites at the Vernon Street church on Sunday, but parishioners were greeted by three squad cars from the nearby 90th Precinct stationhouse — cops who had been summoned by O’Shea’s superior, Pastor William Chacon, and a representative of the Diocese, sources said.

One of the cops confirmed that a pastor from the church called and parishioners were overheard reprimanding Chacon for calling the police.

“It’s a complete shame that instead of making an appearance and thanking the community, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio sent the police in fear that people would protest because they know the truth behind the closure is political,” said parishioner Juan Ramos. “[Closing this church] is the ultimate way to stop the community from organizing itself.”

In the past, DiMarzio has said that his decision to close the church last November was based solely on finances and the “long term viability” of the Diocese itself.

With the closing of Montserrat, the Diocese now wants its parishioners to pray at All Saints Church on Throop Avenue, which is seven blocks away. DiMarzio did not comment on the show of police strength, but the Diocese put out a statement on Monday that said it is “deeply aware of the sacrifice that these changes mean for those who worship in these churches.”

“I pray that impacted parishes find comfort in the fact that we are creating a firm foundation for our Diocesan community…for many decades to come,” Monsignor Edward Scharfenberger, who was on the committee that recommended that the church be closed.

In a separate statement, a Diocese spokesman said that the show of police force was not meant as intimidation.

“Community affairs liaisons at the precinct were asked to be in attendance for public safety precautions, not to maintain order,” said the spokesman, Shane Kavanagh.

That did not satisfy some Montserrat faithful, who remain convinced that the decision to close the church was based on O’Shea’s outspoken politics. The father opposed a city plan to rezone the nearby Broadway Triangle and he opposed a state bill that could have prevented some expensive sex-abuse lawsuits against the Catholic Church. Both initiatives were pushed by Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D–Bushwick), a DiMarzio ally, though DiMarzio has denied that the closure of the church had anything to do with O’Shea’s outspokenness.

Rather, the Diocese says that Montserrat has accrued a debt of $395,000 since 2000 and church documents show a deficit of $23,171 in 2010 — though that figure includes inflated utility bills and expenses, such as a secretary’s salary, that does not exist.

Parishioners, many of whom came from other parts of Brooklyn and Queens to visit the church they were baptized and took communion with, mourned the loss of their congregation Sunday with a mix of sadness and resignation.

The building, according to a Diocese spokesman, will be “desacralized” and put on the market in the spring.

“Whatever money gained by the sale of that property is gained in sale by the parish,” said church spokesman Shane Kavanagh. “The plan is to sell it.”

O’Shea’s future is also unclear.

He is being evicted from his residence above the church at the end of February and will not have a regular congregation to lead — but he plans on opening an after-school program across the street for teenagers called “Reconnect.”

Still, dozens of children greeted O’Shea at the end of mass with the same question: “Why are they closing the church?”

“That’s a good question,” said O’Shea.