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New hope for parishioners: ruling expected

By Jillian Fennimore/ jfennimo@cnc.com | Thursday, September 22, 2005

St. Frances parishioners continue to play the waiting game as the fate of their church is yet to be determined.

John Galvin, a lawyer hired from the Boston firm of Galvin & Ames, told parishioners last Saturday to expect a ruling from the Suffolk Superior Court judge sometime by the end of this week as a result of the recent appeal against the archdiocese.

More than 40 parishioners journeyed into the city by bus and packed the courtroom Friday afternoon for an hour-long hearing, which some parishioners felt was a good sign.

"There wasn't an empty seat in the place," said Pat McCarthy. "It was a true hearing."

Parishioners filed a lawsuit on several grounds including the argument that they themselves own the church and not the archdiocese. They are seeking a temporary injunction to put a hold on any future sale of the property, ultimately trying to keep the archdiocese from taking all assets and seizing the church and 25 acres of oceanfront property.

"This is an ongoing campaign," said Maryellen Rogers, one of the main forces, along with her husband Jon, behind Friends of St. Frances - a group of parishioners who have been holding a 24-hour vigil and Sunday services at the church for close to a year now after the Boston Archdiocese shut the church down last October.

Wilson Rogers, the lawyer representing the archdiocese, argued that parishioners have no legal backing to seek property ownership since the church's title belongs to the archdiocese.

Galvin argued the opposite, claiming that ownership is trusted to the parishioners who have maintained and funded the church.

Putting a hindrance on the sale of the church along with a declaration of the building's deed in dispute, will hopefully move the Archdiocese away from seizing or selling the property for real estate, Maryellen said.

Terrance Donilon, a spokesman for Archbishop Sean O'Malley responded via email that during the time of civil litigation or a pending canonical appeal pending, no discussions will be made by the Archdiocese regarding the marketing of the church properties involved.

But for the Friends of St. Frances, until they hear back from either the Superior Court judge or a pending appeal against the Vatican in Rome, they are still working toward restoring their church.

Last Saturday, the church held a petition drive in which they collected close to 250 signatures from community members and neighbors in support of their efforts. All letters and signatures will be sent to the attorney general at the Vatican.

Rogers said the Friends of St. Frances are also still looking for a response or visit from Archbishop Sean O'Malley, whom they have been sending letters to for the past 11 months.

"It's amazing how they don't reach out to us," she said.

As far as future steps for the Archdiocese regarding the pending court decision, Donilon said the archdiocese will await the ruling and act accordingly.

"We believe that we control the assets and the liabilities of the parish property," he said. "We understand that reconfiguration has been a difficult process for the parishioners of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini and for the entire Archdiocese. The Archbishop understands the anger and pain people are feeling."

If any or all motions are denied in the court process, Rogers said the church will seek the highest court of appeal known as the "apostolic signatura."

"We want to open as a whole, functioning church," said Rogers about the parishioner's continued mission to fight.

According to Donilon, due to "declining numbers of clergy, changing Catholic demographics and financial pressure," the archdiocese began parish reconfiguration in January of 2004, and to date has close 62 parishes as part of the process.

"The vast majority of Catholics have transitioned to welcoming parishes and have played important roles in helping to strengthen the Church," he said. "It is the Archbishop's hope and prayer that we will realize a rebirth in the Church and a strengthening of the Catholic community."