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Wellesley parishioners suspend 7-year vigil

Parishioners at St. James the Great in Wellesley this week suspended their vigil, which began more than seven years ago to protest the Archdiocese of Boston’s decision to close the Catholic church.

The Vatican’s Apostolic Signatura has agreed to review the parishioners’ final appeal, but asked protesters to stop their occupation during the process, said Suzanne Hurley, a spokeswoman for the group. They had occupied St. James since it was closed during a reconfiguration of the archdiocese in 2004.

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Hurley said the group received the Vatican’s request on July 6 and agreed to suspend the vigil Sunday. The decision was easy, she said, because if the protesters did not comply with the ­Holy See, their appeal would end at that moment.

“Why would you go this far to simply be disobedient to the Holy See and end your opportunity to appeal by not doing something that they ask you to comply with?” she said.

The protesters’ advocate must now file a brief to continue the appeal. The advocate is a lawyer in Rome who can argue before the Vatican.

“Our advocate has 30 days to file her brief,” said Paul Hughes, a parishioner and member of the vigil. “She has approximately 30 to 35 appeals right now, so she has requested additional time.”

Earlier this year, the town of Wellesley agreed to purchase the 8-acre property on Route 9 from the Archdiocese of Boston for $3.8 million, but that sale is contingent on the completion of the appeal process. Town officials intend to tear down the church and build a swimming pool, skating rink, and playing field.

The Vatican has denied parishioners’ past efforts to reopen the church, said Terrence Donilon, a spokesman for the archdiocese.

Donilon said the ruling by the Vatican’s high court on the appeal will essentially determine if the St. James property can be used for anything other than a worship site. He said the archdiocese sees “no reason that [the sale] would not be really a good next step, a good future use of the property.”

The archdiocese was ­encouraged by the protesters’ decision to suspend their vigil, Donilon said. “Our hope is that this is one step in a process toward concluding the protest.”

Eight churches shuttered in the 2004 reconfiguration ­began vigils, and today, two continue, Donilon said: St. Therese in Everett and St. Frances in Scituate.

Jon Rogers, a spokesman for the St. Frances parishioners, said they filed an appeal similar to St. James’s. He said St. Frances protesters are about three or four weeks ­behind St. James in the process and continue to maintain the only 24-hour, seven-day-a-week occupation in the state.

Heat and water were shut off to St. James in October 2011, and Hurley said the small group of protesters stopped keeping a full-time presence last winter. Since then, they have occupied the site from between 6 and 8 a.m. until the late evening each day.

Hurley said the St. James parishioners will see the ­appeal through.

“Our intent since day one has been to take this as far as possible,” she said.

The current effort is the group’s last chance with the Vatican to preserve St. James before the sale is made final, and Hughes said parishioners’ legal ability to occupy the site hangs in the balance.

“Unless our appeal is sustained,” he said, “we will have no canonical rights to occupy the church.”

Zachary T. Sampson
can be reached at
zachary.sampson@globe.com.
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