Vatican denies Boston parishioners’ appeal to keep churches open

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Parishioners who have occupied a closed Massachusetts Catholic church for nearly a decade said they plan one final petition to Pope Francis to prevent the building from being sold by the Boston Archdiocese.

Jon Rogers, a member of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish in Scituate, said petitioning the pope was a last resort measure. Despite the step, he said he was not sure it would succeed.

“We promised 10 years ago when we started this we would exhaust every avenue of appeal,” Rogers told Catholic News Service June 24.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini parishioners have kept an around-the-clock presence in the church since October 2004 in the hope that various appeals based on canon law would be successful. The parish was one of 70 that closed beginning in 2004 in a downsizing plan carried out under Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley.

The parishioners involved in the occupation announced June 21 that the Apostolic Signature, the Vatican’s highest court, denied their final appeal. The decision means the parish is automatically deconsecrated, or in canonical terms, relegated to profane use.

The court ruled similarly on the appeals by parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Boston and St. James the Great Parish in Wellesley. Parishioners ended their occupations of the parishes in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

Lorenzo Grasso, a member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, said parishioners planned to petition Pope Francis as well.

Suzanne Hurley, a St. James the Great Parish member, said the community decided to end its effort to save the church.

“If I knew 10 years ago what I do today, I still would have gone ahead with my action,” she told CNS. “There are times when you may not win because you have to believe in something. You have to fight for things because somebody will benefit from the actions of others.”

Rogers said he preferred to negotiate a deal to buy the Scituate church from the archdiocese. An archdiocesan spokesman said, however, the building would not be sold to the group.

“After 10 years of going through the circuslike atmosphere of the Vatican court and seeing how it operates, we’re glad it’s over and now the time for real hard-nose negotiations is at hand,” a defiant Rogers said.

Peter Borre, co-chairman of the Council of Parishes, a group formed to appeal the closures, said it would take several weeks to prepare the petition to Pope Francis. Borre told CNS he expects to deliver the documents to the Vatican in September, after the usual summer hiatus of church officials.

For now, Borre said, “The canonical process is finished. Rome has spoken.”

Terrence C. Donilon, the archdiocesan spokesman, told CNS June 24 he could not comment on the Vatican’s decision because no notice had been received by the archdiocese.

“We have all gone into this process understanding the rule and the way it could go, one way or the other. It just seems that the process is nearing an end here,” Donilon said.

“They’ve had some pretty harsh things to say recently which are insensitive and not respecting the process,” Donilon added in reference to St. Frances Xavier Cabrini parishioner statements. “They went into this fully aware knowing of what the possibilities were. Now it appears when it’s not going their way, they want to change the rules.”

The spokesman urged parishioners to join a neighboring parish to take advantage of the full life of the Catholic Church.

“No one is saying we want them to not be part of a parish or the church anymore. We want them to join an open parish and help in ministry work that’s there, whether that’s serving on the parish council, helping with religious ed or helping with the food bank. The whole spectrum of ministries a parish offers, they’re not experiencing,” Donilon said.

Rogers promised that parishioners would stay in the church building as long as necessary.

“They’re going to have to arrest us (to remove us), but we hope the time for real negotiations is at hand,” he said.

Donilon, however, declined to speculate on what actions the archdiocese might take to remove parishioners from the church.

“My hope is that through prayer and reflection, reason will emerge in their internal deliberations,” he said.

“This was not an enjoyable experience for anybody. It can’t go on forever and it won’t.”