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St. Frances parishioners file suit

By Jillian Fennimore | jfennimo@cnc.com | July 21, 2005

Faithful parishioners of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini want their story to be told.

And they're getting they hope to get their message across by filing suit against the Boston Archdiocese.

On July 15 - ironically on St. Frances Cabrini's birthday -church vigil leaders Jon and Maryellen Rogers filed their suit with the U.S. Court with a request for declaratory judgement between parishioners and the Archdiocese - a dispute over who owns the church. The suit also seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction for relief of the church closure, as well as a full accounting record of the parish, to show the financial reasons for closing the parish were inaccurate.

"We are not fooling around anymore," said Jon about the church's actions in court. "We want our voices to be heard."

Those who have been participating in the 24-hour a day vigil at the church since last October, voted unanimously in June to take legal action against the Archdiocese.

Catholics have been seeking to persuade Archbishop Sean O'Malley to reverse his decision of closing 83 parishes which he announced last summer, citing a shortage of priests, parishioners and funding.

But the Friends of St. Frances holding vigil say they have a workable solution to save their church.

"Preserve the church, the parish and the parking lot," said Maryellen, about allowing the Archdiocese to have the majority of the 25-acre waterfront parcel.

She also said, despite the claim that the church was losing money and parishioners, St. Frances' numbers have been flourishing financially and in its membership.

"We know that we were very solvent," she said about the church's accounting records. "We are a viable and dynamic parish."

The Friends of St. Frances expect to be in court next month, and are still waiting to hear an response to an appeal made to the Vatican in Rome late last year.

Maryellen said parishioners have been looking to share their story with the Archbishop, but have not been able to meet with him during their time in vigil. July 26 will mark the ninth month since the official closing of the parish. There are now nearly 150 families that spend time in the church and participate in a weekly communion service every Sunday.

"This is church is so much stronger as a spiritual community," she said.

In October, Selectman Joseph Norton organized a St. Frances church property committee, currently working to find a way for the town to purchase the land and the building from the Archdiocese through an eminent domain taking before it is sold to a private developer.

A canonical appeal was also made to the Archdiocese to re-open the church, but was denied last November by the Archbishop, claiming that surrounding churches like St. Mary of the Nativity in Scituate and St. Anthony's in Cohasset have the capacity to serve the St. Frances faithful.

But Maryellen said with an influx of multi-unit developments and the incoming Greenbush MBTA train, there will be an "explosion" in Scituate's population.

"We need this church," she said.