On the eve of a deadline from the Boston Archdiocese to end a decade-long vigil at a Scituate church that was officially closed in 2004, parishioners vowed on Sunday to continue fighting through both civil and canon law.
Congregants at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church said an appeal seeking reversal of the closure was under review by canon law specialists after being accepted in November by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts.
Mary Beth Carmody, an attorney for the nonprofit Friends of St. Frances X. Cabrini Inc., said the pontifical council has the authority to override a decision made last June by the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court, that denied a previous appeal.
In the face of a Feb. 3 letter from the archdiocese threatening “civil recourse” if the congregation does not vacate the building by March 9, Carmody said parishioners will also oppose any attempt to use civil courts to evict them as trespassers.
She said the friends group will claim in court that it, and not the archdiocese, owns the church and parish hall because both were paid for by its members and their predecessors.
Terrence C. Donilon, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said that it was prepared to proceed in a secular court but that it would be inappropriate for him to speculate on what action its lawyers might take.
Regarding canon law, Donilon said the archdiocese had been prepared to accept whatever ruling the Apostolic Signatura made, and he did not understand why the St. Frances congregants would not accept its decision.
“I don’t know what they’re presenting to the pontifical council,” he said. “All I know is that the highest court has ruled. We hope and we pray that they will adhere to that ruling.”
But after their long 24/7 vigil, the parishioners don’t plan to give up now, Carmody said, and she hopes Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley will either reinstate the parish or find another resolution that preserves their faith community.
“St. Frances will defend on every issue, and . . . I’m really confident that they will prevail,” said Carmody, who retired as an assistant US attorney last year after nearly 30 years and accepted the St. Frances case as her first after opening a private practice in Framingham.
“I really feel, believe it or not, that the cardinal can see beyond the black and white,” she continued. “But he has to think outside the box.”
Carmody helped lead a vigil for more than six years as a parishioner at St. Jeremiah Catholic Church in Framingham.
The archdiocese sold St. Jeremiah in 2011 to the Syro-Malabar Eparchy, an Eastern Rite Catholic community from southern India. Since then, Carmody said, the Latin Rite Mass has continued each Sunday, and parishioners have remained active at the church.
Carmody said the archdiocese’s reconfiguration, in which it closed about 70 churches beginning in 2004, amid longstanding declines in attendance and donations exacerbated by the priest sexual abuse scandal, had been “universally recognized as a failure.”
She said the devotion of congregants at St. Frances could help energize current efforts to re-evangelize lapsed Catholics.
“The Archdiocese of Boston was epicenter of the sexual abuse crisis, and it was the epicenter of the reconfiguration,” she said. “This is an opportunity for the cardinal to turn it around and to make the archdiocese the epicenter of rebuilding the church, not disbanding it.”