Vatican Denies Appeal of Closed Massachusetts Parish

By Jay Lindsay
The Republican
May 14, 2012

BOSTON The Vatican has rejected an appeal by parishioners who've occupied a Scituate church in protest since the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston closed it eight years ago.

The decision announced Monday by the archdiocese is a blow to a protest at St. Frances X. Cabrini church that is, by far, the strongest remaining of several that arose after widespread church closings were announced by the archdiocese in 2004.

In the ruling, the Vatican upheld Cardinal Sean O'Malley's decision to convert the Scituate church building to secular use a step necessary before sale.

In other dioceses, including in Springfield and in Allentown, Pa., the same Vatican office refused to let dioceses close church buildings, ruling the dioceses hadn't given adequate reasons. But this time, it said the Scituate appeal wasn't justified by the facts or church law.

Archdiocese spokesman Terry Donilon urged protesters at the Scituate church to join a nearby parish and give up their round-the-clock occupation.

"For the good of our Catholic family, the time has come for this vigil to end," he said.

Jon Rogers, vigil leader at St. Frances, said his group will remain at the church until its appeals are exhausted. He said the ruling "isn't worth the paper it's printed on" and the next step is an appeal to the Vatican's high court.

"We remain committed to our church, strong in our faith and resolved to the fact that good will triumph over evil actions," he said.

The archdiocese has 288 parishes today, compared with 357 when the closings started in 2004.

When it announced the closings, the archdiocese blamed falling attendance, a priest shortage and financial problems. But some parishioners refused to leave their churches, saying the archdiocese was selling off vibrant parishes to pay for clergy sex abuse settlements, something the church has denied.

In Scituate, parishioners set up a rotating schedule of volunteers who stay at the church day and night. They have regular services and amenities such as warm beds and Internet access, and they spent $20,000 to upgrade the heating system.

As the years passed, St. Frances' vigil has kept going strong, while others have faded or ended. At our Lady of Mount Carmel in East Boston, the archdiocese changed the locks in the church last month, saying security was compromised because people in the vigil had the only keys.

At St. James the Great in Wellesley, protesters are weighing further Vatican appeal after the archdiocese agreed this year to sell the property to the town. Last year, the archdiocese sold St. Jeremiah's in Framingham to an Eastern Catholic Church diocese, ending its vigil.

Rogers said though things have been grim for most local vigils, he was optimistic because of the Vatican rulings in other dioceses, including the extraordinary step it took in March to reinstate 13 closed parishes in Cleveland. He said the ruling against his parish smacks of retribution for its protest.

"A special target is what we are," he said.

Rogers said if the group loses in the end, it will remain together, though he wasn't sure the vigil would remain in the building.

According to Donilon, O'Malley said the Vatican decision had nothing to do with retribution and the Scituate group seems to want a confrontation with the archdiocese.

"We wish they would turn their good energy and commitment to helping us rebuild and heal the church, as many who were pained by the closing of parishes have in the eight years since," he said.


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