The last Massachusetts parishioners occupying an officially closed Catholic church are vowing to fight on, despite a final ruling against them by a Vatican court that effectively ends any hope of a reprieve.
“We were stunned because this appeal has been very successful throughout the country,” said Jon Rogers, who helps lead a group of protesters that has occupied St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church in Scituate around the clock and has held weekly services there since 2004. “But we are not ready to roll over . . . We’re dug in, entrenched, and we’re not going anywhere.”
Rogers said lawyers for the parishioners notified him Saturday that their last-gasp attempt had been denied by the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court.
Rogers’s group, The Friends of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, had appealed a Vatican ruling allowing deconsecration of the church building, a step that would allow the archdiocese to repurpose, lease, or sell the building.
Rogers, who accuses the archdiocese of liquidating churches to help pay for costs incurred by the clergy sex abuse scandal, said the Friends group would now explore other options for saving the church, and he called on the archdiocese to reconsider his group’s offer to buy the church.
“In order for us to come to some sort of fair and equitable solution, we need to sit down face to face,” Rogers said. “The people of Scituate bought, paid for, and constructed that church. It’s ours.”
Terry Donilon, an archdiocese spokesman, declined to comment on the Vatican court’s decision because he had not been notified of it.
But he said the group’s hopes that the archdiocese will reopen the parish or sell them the building are “misguided” and unrealistic.
“We have done everything imaginable to hear and listen to them, and our door remains open, but they want something they can’t have,” Donilon said. “We’re not selling them the church . . . In faith, sometimes the answer’s ‘no.’ ”
In 2004, staring down longstanding financial and attendance crises exacerbated by the sex abuse scandal, the archdiocese slated about 70 parishes for closure. Though some of those parishes would be combined to create new ones, the Boston Archdiocese today counts 289 parishes, down from 357 in 2004.
Most of the closed churches went quietly. But about a dozen either filed civil suits or appealed to the Vatican court system, and a handful began around-the-clock vigils in their church buildings, ensuring that the archdiocese would have to forcibly remove them to carry out the closures.
Donilon said the archdiocese could have removed the parishioners at any point in the past 10 years but it remains reluctant to take that drastic step. Still, he suggested that the archdiocese’s patience is running out, and accused the Friends of “wanting a confrontation.”
“We’ve been very patient and consistent . . . We’re not looking to drag people out,” Donilon said. “But we’re not saying we’re not going to end it some day. They simply need to understand that it’s over.”
“Losing a parish is a period of mourning,” Donilon continued, “but at some point, you have to move on with your life.”
Donilon said the archdiocese would welcome the Scituate protesters back into the fold at another parish.
“At end of day, we want them to come with us, join us,” he said. “It’s a beautiful faith, and there are great things happening in the archdiocese . . . It’s just not going to happen there at that particular church.”Dan Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter at @DanielAdams86.