Parishioners vow to continue Massachusetts vigil despite trespass ruling

By Scott Malone

SCITUATE, Mass. (Reuters) - Parishioners who have occupied their Massachusetts church for 11 years to prevent the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston from closing it vowed on Thursday to continue their vigil despite a ruling by the state's top court that they are trespassing.

A group of parishioners of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church in Scituate said they would keep up their 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week vigil, the last and longest-running of a half dozen mounted by Boston-area parishes targeted for closure early in the Church's sexual abuse crisis.

"We're disappointed," said Jon Rogers, a leader of the vigil, in response to Wednesday's decision by Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that the group has no legal standing to remain in the brick building constructed in the 1960s.

"There's a lot of anger in this room," he said, standing in front of a stained-glass window in the church with about a dozen fellow parishioners, most in their 60s and 70s. "There's still a lot of commitment here."

The Archdiocese of Boston asked the parishioners on Wednesday to abide by the court's ruling and end their occupation, the last holdout of some 70 parishes Church officials decided to close in 2004 as the clergy sex abuse scandal began to take a heavy toll on Church finances.

Since that time, about 100 parishioners, working in shifts, have maintained a continuous vigil at the 30-acre (12-hectare) property in waterfront Scituate, south of Boston.

They had argued to the court that since parishioners' donations had paid for the church's construction and maintenance, they shared an ownership interest in the property. The court rejected that argument.

"That's something people didn't realize until this latest round of closures, that parishioners don't own the church," said Nick Ingala, a spokesman for Voice of the Faithful, a liberal-leaning Catholic group formed to promote parishioners' voices after the abuse scandal.

"These people in Scituate have certainly made their voice heard," Ingala said. "It may not have had much of an effect but they have delayed the closure."

Mary Elizabeth Carmody, a lawyer representing the parishioners, said she planned to file requests to the state appeals court and the Supreme Judicial Court to rethink their decisions. Another appeal is outstanding at the Vatican, she said.

Maryellen Rogers, Jon Rogers' wife, called on Boston's archbishop, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, to negotiate a settlement.

"It is time for Cardinal O'Malley to come here, to meet with the people of St. Frances," she said.

O'Malley has met with the parishioners several times in the past few years, most recently in November, though parishioners said he had never come to a meeting at the church, which they said still draws hundreds of worshippers at holidays.

An archdiocesan spokesman declined to comment on Thursday.

Other parishes that attempted similar vigils either abandoned their efforts or lost in the courts. No U.S. Catholic parish has succeeded in fighting closure for as long as the Scituate group, said a Church expert who asked not to be named because of his ties with the archdiocese.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Eric Walsh and Mohammad Zargham)

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting