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Time may be short for vigil at defiant Scituate church

Marsha Devir, a parishioner since 1982 at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini church.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Finely crafted stained-glass windows, bulwarks against the blustery winds outside, filtered the Sunday morning sunshine that bathed the Easter congregation in dappled, colorful light.

Hymns were sung, prayers recited, Scripture read. And then a homilist gravely pronounced that the end is near.

From the pulpit at St. Frances X. Cabrini Church in Scituate, Jon Rogers implored those who have kept a decadelong, ’round-the-clock vigil at the 54-year-old church for their time, talent, and treasure. The alternative? “A vacant lot,’’ Rogers said.

Rogers is among the leaders of a remarkable resistance to the Archdiocese of Boston’s decision 10 years ago to close their church, a victim — like dozens of others — of declining attendance and cratering financial support in the archdiocese exacerbated by the clergy sexual-abuse crisis.


The vigil at St. Frances — which now has now spanned three papacies — is the only one of its kind left in the archdiocese. The opposing parties, who have reached accord on almost nothing, agree that the battle is approaching its climax.

“We are entwined in an epic battle,’’ the St. Frances church bulletin states this week. “And as we sprint … to the finish line of saving our church we are reaching out for donations to help support our legal endeavors.’’

Those endeavors have been long, hard-fought and labyrinthine, winding their way through the Vatican’s obscure judiciary, which have resolutely turned aside the Scituate parishioners’ appeals.

It has now found its way to a stately courthouse in Dedham, where Superior Court Judge Edward P. Leibensperger is expected to rule next month on a narrow and surprisingly simple matter of law: Who holds the deed to the church?

“The issue of ownership is not going to be a [difficult decision],” William J. Dailey, an archdiocesan lawyer, told Leibensperger last week at a hearing at which the judge denied the St. Frances bid for more time to prepare for trial, including taking the sworn deposition of Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley.


Dailey said it will take him about an hour and a half at trial next month to prove the archdiocese owns the church. Mary Elizabeth Carmody, who represents the Friends of St. Frances X. Cabrini Inc., told the judge that the parish owns the property.

“Our archbishop is taking us to court as trespassers,’’ said Maryellen Rogers, who, like her husband, is one of the vigil’s leaders. “We’re prayerful that there will be a positive outcome.’’

The archdiocese’s lawyers told the judge they are reluctant litigants in the pending civil case. It’s easy to see why. A victory would mean parishioners led, perhaps in handcuffs, out of the church before a phalanx of TV cameras whose images will ricochet around the nation.

The archdiocese says it has been more than patient, and was willing to abide by outcome of the canonical appeals, including one to the highest Vatican court, which ruled against the Friends of St. Frances. Now, the church says, it’s time for the vigil to end.

I happen to worship at the Catholic Church across town from St. Frances. In the twilight of Pope John Paul II’s reign, I twirled my favorite little girl across a sparkling floor at the daddy-daughter dance in the parish hall, a building outside the parishioners’ control that they said has fallen into disrepair.

I’ve returned to the parish in recent days, visiting with women keeping vigil who attested to a newly fortified faith that answers not to Boston or Rome, but to a higher authority.


Sharon Harrington, another church member, implored O’Malley to remember the biblical lesson of the good shepherd, who leaves his flock of 99 sheep in order to find one who is lost. “The pastor is supposed to care about all of his sheep,’’ she said.

O’Malley says he wants to do that. Winning in court may be easier than what comes next. Finding lost sheep and guiding them back to the flock? That will test the mettle of even the best of shepherds.

Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at