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Archdiocese challenges tax bill for vigil church

By Laura Crimaldi | Sunday, November 4, 2007 | The Boston Herald

Bobbie Sullivan and Sean Arnold, 8, make lavender wands yesterday outside St. Francis X. Cabrini church in Scituate. LET US PRAY: Parishoners pray the Rosary at the closed St. Frances X. Cabrini Church in Scituate last summer. Photo by Matthew West (file).

The Archdiocese of Boston has launched a two-pronged legal attack on Scituate town officials, who are levying tens of thousands in property taxes on buildings belonging to a closed parish that has been in vigil for three years.

In a complaint filed in Suffolk Superior Court, the church claims St. Francis X. Cabrini parish is entitled to a tax exemption because the property is still used for religious worship. The archdiocese has also brought the matter before the state Appellate Tax Board.

cw0The town began taxing the church and its parish center, rectory, school, hall and parking lot in July 2005, seven months after the 47-year-old parish was suppressed by the archdiocese during a tumultuous reconfiguration process.

The annual tax bill is about $36,000 to $38,000, said Scituate Assessing Director Stephen Jarzembowski. The church complaint states the taxes have been paid.

In the case of the buildings of the former parish of St. Francis X. Cabrini Parish in Scituate, these buildings remain the property of the Archdiocese and have not been used for any non-religious purpose,” said archdiocesan spokesman Terrence C. Donilon. “The Town of Scituate’s denial for tax-exempt status infringes upon the ‘autonomy of the Church in matters of faith, canon law, and ecclesiastical relationships.’ ” The lawsuit, which seeks injunctive relief, names the town, the three-person Board of Assessors and Treasurer-Collector Jane Cunniff Lepardo.

“I really felt the archdiocese was really turning its back on them and did not consider it a church anymore,” said Timothy O’Brien, a member of the Board of Assessors and former chairman of the state Appellate Tax Board.

O’Brien, a former parishioner at St. Francis, said he voted in favor of granting an exemption when the archdiocese asked for it just after the church closed. He said he reversed his decision the next year after vigiling parishioners were denied a request to have a priest say Christmas and Easter Masses.

Attorney Jay Talerman, who is representing the town, described the lawsuit as “frivolous.” He said he will file a motion to dismiss tomorrow. The lawsuit has also drawn criticism from vigiling parishioners who have occupied the church since October 2004.

“They are playing two sides of the fence here,” said Jon Rogers, a vigil leader. “The hypocrisy is nauseating.”