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St. Frances parishioners vow to fight on

By Brian P. Nanos | Wed Mar 05, 2008, 04:23 PM EST

Scituate - In the week after the Vatican’s highest tribunal refused to hear appeal of a church closing in Lowell, Jon Rogers remained confident about his community’s quest to fight the closing of St. Frances X Cabrini Church in North Scituate.

Last week, the Apostolic Signatura, a Vatican tribunal, declined to hear the case brought by parishioners fighting the closing of St. Jeanne d’Arc in Lowell. As of Tuesday, parishioners from St. Frances had not yet heard if the tribunal would hear a similar case that they have brought.

“The phone could ring right now,” Rogers said.

However, Rogers, who with his wife Maryellen has been a spokesman for the St. Frances parishioners, believed that the Lowell case had some key differences from their own. For one, he said, the Lowell parishioners had not been keeping vigil at their church. An estimated 125 parishioners have taken turns standing guard at St. Frances since its scheduled closing by the Boston Archdiocese in 2004.

In addition, Rogers pointed out that the St. Frances parishioners have brought a civil suit against Cardinal Sean O’Malley, head of the Boston Archdiocese. The suit, which was dismissed by a Superior Court Judge but has been appealed, claims that the church and its assets should belong to the parishioners.

Rogers said he believes the pressure brought by the existence of a civil suit could convince the Vatican to rule more favorably toward St. Frances than it had to the church in Lowell.

But if the Apostolic Signatura rejects the appeal, he said St. Frances prisoners will appeal it again — all the way to Pope Benedict XVI. And if that appeal is rejected, Rogers said they’ll bring a different appeal on different grounds, grounds that Rogers was unwilling to discuss because, “that’s a whole other race to be run.”

St. Frances was one of a number of churches the Archdiocese voted to close down in 2004. In January of that year, 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. The appeals brought by St. Frances parishioners are funded through donations, primarily raised at the group’s annular fall fundraiser.

Meanwhile, a tight-knit community has formed around the appeals and struggles of the church, which will hold lay-led services throughout the upcoming Holy Week. According to Rogers, Easter and Christmas services held since the vigil began have been drawing anywhere from 300 to 500 people, and have brought the community together in a way that makes their services unique when compared to services at other churches.

“It’s probably the most Christian service I’ve ever attended,” he said. “Think about this now, think about it: you’re dealing with a church community that has worked three years to protect their church.”

The new, stronger community, he said, has made the whole struggle more than worth the sacrifices he and other church members have made to protect the property.

“There are times in every process when you’re frustrated, but I would never trade one minute of this process knowing what I know now,” he said.

So, until they run out of options, Rogers and the other parishioners will continue to fight for what they see as their church. And even when they run out of appeal options, the community, he said, would find a way to stay together.

“Regardless of what happens with St. Frances, I would see a future for this community well into the coming years, forever,” he said. “We’re not going anywhere. Period.”

Reporter Brian P. Nanos can be reached at bnanos@cnc.com.