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27 Hood Road • PO Box 129 • Scituate, Massachusetts • 02066 • 781.544.4544

Vatican ruling won’t deter vigil holders

By Jillian Fennimore | jfennimo@cnc.com | January 19, 2006

Despite the disappointing news from the Vatican, the fight continues for the faithful at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church.

The Archdiocese of Boston announced on Saturday that the Congregation from the Clergy in Rome rejected the appeals of 10 Boston area churches and affirmed the Archdiocese’s decision to close the parishes as part of their reconfiguration plan.

The parishioners who have been holding vigil inside St. Frances for the past 15 months took the recent ruling from Rome as another way to add fuel to their fire for keeping the doors of their own church open for good.

"It’s no shock," said Maryellen Rogers, a spokesperson and organizer of those in vigil at the Hood Road parish. "We will continue our civil suit."

According to Rogers, the next step is to file an appeal to the Vatican, also known as an Apostolic Signatura, once the decree of the Vatican’s decision is received.

Rogers, along with her husband Jon, and others known as the Friends of St. Frances will be meeting with Archbishop Sean O’Malley for a second time this weekend to further discuss the future of their church and plead their case to reverse his decision.

Four parishioners met with O’Malley last month, sharing data and financial facts about their church, hoping to support their point in reopening as a functioning parish.

In January 2004, O’Malley stated his initial plans to close more than 80 parishes within the Boston Archdiocese, based on changes in demographics, a declining number of clergy and fiscal shortages within some of the churches. St. Frances parishioners have refuted the claims of financial troubles, saying their church was fiscally sound and well attended.

Rogers said they hope to follow-up with the Archbishop on further options for the future of St. Frances - a highly desirable piece of 25-acre waterfront property that parishioners fear will be sold to a real estate developer.

"We need to reach some sort of resolve," she said. "And reiterate that we are not going anywhere."

Rogers said some plans on the table include using some of the property for a parochial school or cemetery space, or operating the church with retired priests, or rotating part-time priests saying Mass.

The church was closed in October 2004, and since then 100 dedicated parishioners have taken up residence in shifts, eating, sleeping, knitting, quilting and praying for their parish around the clock. They’ve also been planning appeals and legal strategy to get the church open again.

O’Malley has stood by his decisions in most cases, although one reversal was the reopening of St. Albert the Great parish in Weymouth, which has served to inspire St. Frances parishioners to continue their efforts.

With the loss of St. Frances in Scituate, O’Malley said St. Mary of the Nativity Church provides suitable space for Scituate Catholics along with St. Anthony’s in Cohasset.

In a release on the Vatican’s ruling O’Malley responded; "This has been a difficult time for our Catholic community. We wish to express our gratitude to the many priests, deacons, religious and parishioners who have generously accepted the need for change in light of our limited resources. While many members of closed parishes have joined, enriched and strengthened neighboring parish communities, other continue to struggle with the effects of reconfiguration."

The vigil holders at St. Frances say they will continue their efforts.

Peter Borre, a spokesman for the Council of Parishes - a group of concerned Catholics formed to support parishes subject to closure - said the time is right to launch a lawsuit into the civil court system.

"We’ve come to a major obstacle," he said about the Vatican’s ruling.

A recommendation will be made to the council by Borre to charge O’Malley with failure to act as a trustee of the parishes that have deemed themselves financially viable.

St. Frances parishioners are also worried by the news that the pastors of the receiving churches - including the Rev. Brian Manning of St. Mary of the Nativity parish- agreed to sign over the assets of the churches slated for closure to the Archdiocese.

"If the receiving parishes had kept the assets and liabilities of the closed parishes, then some receiving parishes would have become richer and others would have taken on debt," stated a letter from the pastors. "Having the assets and liabilities of the closed parishes go to the Archdiocese and then be distributed for the good of all was deemed the fairest outcome."

Rogers said St. Frances parishioners have gathered signatures for petitions in order to prevent this from happening and help keep their own funds that the church has maintained over the years.

Until then, parishioners remain "cautiously optimistic" and prepared to make their next move.

"On to the next hurdle," said Rogers. "We are looking for a fair and equitable solution."

Other churches who were denied their appeals from the Vatican include Our Lady of Lourdes (Revere), Infant Jesus-Saint Lawrence (Brookline), St. James the Great (Wellesley), Saint Augustine (South Boston), Star of the Sea (Quincy), Our Lady of Mercy (Belmont), Sacred Heart (Natick), Saint Jeremiah (Framingham) and Saint Anselm (Sudbury).