Scituate parishioners call on O’Malley to reverse closure plans
SCITUATE — The nearly 11-year fight to keep St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church open entered another round Thursday as parishioners holding a vigil there said they are not giving up, and called on Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley to “show us mercy” and reverse his decision to close the parish.
Their plea came a day after the Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled that the vigil participants are trespassers, and that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, as the property owner, has the right to order them to leave.
“It’s time for him to come here,” said attorney Mary Beth Carmody, who spoke at a news conference organized by the Friends of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Inc., a nonprofit formed by the vigil participants.
Carmody said the group is still considering its legal options, which include petitioning the Appeals Court to reconsider or asking the state’s Supreme Judicial Court to hear the matter.
The Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts at the Vatican is also considering an appeal filed by the parishioners, Carmody said.
The archdiocese sued the group after the highest Vatican court, the Apostolic Signatura, last year denied the parishioners’ petition to keep the church open. Vigil participants were given until March 9 to leave. They refused to comply.
Carmody did not rule out taking the legal battle to the country’s highest court.
“It’s a constitutional question that could be presented to the United States Supreme Court,” she said.
Archdiocesan spokesman Terrence C. Donilon said O’Malley was not available for an interview Thursday. He referred to a statement issued Wednesday in which the archdiocese asked the group to conclude its vigil.
“The parishes of the archdiocese welcome and invite those involved with the vigil to participate and join in the fullness of parish life,” the statement said.
Still, a favorable court ruling, Carmody said, would not accomplish the parishioners’ goal of having the church reopened, a decision that rests with O’Malley.
In asking the cardinal to visit, Carmody and vigil leaders noted that two priests assigned to the church were tied to the clergy sex-abuse crisis. One was defrocked and the other priest faced a lawsuit, which was settled, said Maryellen Rogers, a lifelong parishioner.
Former priest John J. Geoghan, who was defrocked in 1998 and murdered in 2003 while in prison for fondling a 10-year-old boy, visited St. Frances, Carmody said. Four other priests from a nearby church and school also faced sexual-abuse allegations, group leaders said.
“If you wanted to find pedophile priests, this was the gold mine,” said Jon Rogers, one of the vigil participants and the husband of Maryellen Rogers.
“You don’t get to basically abuse children and then steal our church basically to pay for the crimes of your past,” he said. “This is deep seated not only in the community but the people who have been victimized in the past.”
The group said reopening St. Frances has the potential to convince lapsed Catholics and victims of clergy sex abuse to renew their faith.
“It would send a message that would reverberate positively around the Archdiocese of Boston, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the United States, and the world,” Carmody said.
By their count, parishioners have kept a peaceful 24-hour vigil for 10 years and 11 months. The church’s closure in October 2004 was part of a reconfiguration aimed at addressing a decline in Mass attendance and donations in the wake of the abusescandal.
Group members declined to disclose how much they’ve spent in legal fees.
O’Malley has met with vigil participants three times, but has never visited with them at the church, the group said. The most recent meeting took place in November 2014.
The Scituate church is the only one still fighting closure with a vigil, but the group warned that a new wave of parish closings could be coming.
Carmody referred to recent developments with churches that the archdiocese has already closed. St. James the Great in Wellesley was demolished, while Star of the Sea in Quincy and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in East Boston were sold, she said.
“This is about our ability to defend our spiritual home against the people that would destroy it,” Jon Rogers said. “But everybody believes that this is kind of self centered, and indeed it is not. It is for all the churches out there.”
The group said there are around 100 people who participate regularly in the vigil. At any given time, there can be as few as one or two people at the church or as many as 20, Maryellen Rogers said.
Scituate resident Nancy Shilts, 81, said she participates in the vigil four days a week.
“To me this is God’s house,” she said. “Why knock it down when it’s still God’s house?”