Parishioners who have kept vigil at a shuttered Catholic church in Scituate for more than 11 years were dealt a potentially crushing blow this week, when the state's highest court declined to review a lower court ruling ordering them to leave the property.
The group keeping a round-the-clock vigil at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church said they were notified of the Supreme Judicial Court's decision on Thursday.
"The faithful of St. Frances continue to ask the Cardinal to reconsider and show us the mercy that Pope Frances has indicated is the way of the Gospel," the Friends of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini said in a statement on their Facebook page.
"At this juncture, The Friends of St. Frances are taking this decision under advisement with their attorney and reviewing as a community potential options and next steps."
The SJC decision is the latest development in a legal saga pitting the vigil group against the Archdiocese of Boston, which closed the church in 2004 along with dozens of others in response to dwindling attendance and shrinking donations following the clergy sex-abuse scandal.
In May, a Norfolk Superior Court judge ordered the demonstrators to leave, in a ruling stemming from a lawsuit the archdiocese filed after the highest Vatican court, the Apostolic Signatura, denied the vigil group's appeal to keep the church open.
The state Appeals Court upheld the ruling in October.
Mary Beth Carmody, a lawyer for the Friends of St. Frances, said Friday that the group has not decided whether it will ask the US Supreme Court to review the case. The high court accepts roughly 2 percent of the more than 7,000 cases submitted for review each year, according to a federal court website.
In the meantime, the demonstrators have not yet been given a firm date for when they must leave, Carmody said.
The archdiocese did not address the departure date on Friday but said in a statement that it has "received notice from the Supreme Judicial Court that it has denied the request for further appellate review submitted by the Friends of St. Frances Cabrini. We again ask the Friends of St. Frances Cabrini to conclude the vigil. The parishes of the Archdiocese welcome and invite those involved with the vigil to participate and join in the fullness of parish life."
But the vigil group said that a canonical appeal is still pending in Rome at the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, and Jon Rogers, a spokesman for the demonstrators, had sharp words for Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley in the wake of the latest legal setback.
"It must be made abundantly clear to all Catholics in the Archdiocese of Boston that when you are asked for money every week to support 'your church' it is not the parishioners' church, but Cardinal O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston's church, which he can take away for any reason, at any time," Rogers said in the group's statement.
He continued, "When that happens there will be no viable recourse available to protect the church that you were misled to believe was yours. Parish priests have a moral obligation to stop telling the parishioners from the altar that it is your church; it is not! The Archdiocese of Boston and Cardinal O'Malley have taken every legal step necessary to ensure that all churches within the diocese are theirs. Think twice before giving to 'your' church."