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Supreme Court declines to hear Scituate parishioners’ case

The St. Frances X. Cabrini church in Scituate. Dina Rudick/Globe Staff/File

SCITUATE — A long and desperate attempt by a group of dedicated Catholic parishioners to keep open their Scituate church — the scene of marriages, baptisms, weddings, and funeral services — came to a halt after nearly 12 years on Monday when the US Supreme Court refused to hear their case.

The group has kept a constant vigil at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church since October of 2004, when the Boston Archdiocese announced it would close the church. The group of parishioners who refused to leave suffered numerous legal setbacks over the years before ultimately asking the Supreme Court to take up the case in March.


But the high court hears only a small percentage of cases it is asked to review, and on Monday it denied the group’s request without giving a reason.

St. Frances was part of a wave of closings and consolidations enacted by the Boston Archdiocese because of declining enrollments and the financial fallout from the clergy sex-abuse crisis.

Members of the vigil group, the Friends of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Inc., said Monday inside the lobby of the 55-year-old church that they will vacate the property after holding a final service on May 29, under terms of a prior legal agreement with the archdiocese, which sued the group to compel them to leave.

In addition, the Friends said they plan to start an independent Catholic church under the same name in Scituate that will not be under the authority of the archdiocese.

“No one will ever be able to steal it from us,” said Jon Rogers, a spokesman for the Friends. “Especially not the Archdiocese of Boston, which basically is taking our church to replenish the coffers depleted by sexual abuse.”

He said of the legal outcome, “It’s disappointing in the fact that they’re going to decide to bulldoze this. . . . It’s disappointing that they didn’t come and talk to us and work out a solution.”


In a statement, Terrence Donilon, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said those keeping vigil would be welcomed at other churches in the region.

“Given the denial of the Friends of St. Frances Cabrini’s petition, we ask them to end their vigil and leave the property within 14 days in accordance with the agreement filed with the Superior Court,’’ Donilon said.

“The parishes of the Archdiocese welcome and invite those involved with the vigil to participate and join in the fullness of parish life.”

The high court’s denial on Monday brings an end to an emotional, bitter saga that began in 2004, when the Friends took up vigil.

In March of 2015, the archdiocese asked a state court judge to intervene after the highest Vatican court, the Apostolic Signatura, denied the group’s appeal to keep the church open.

Norfolk Superior Court Judge Edward P. Leibensperger ruled two months later that the participants were “unlawfully and intentionally committing a trespass by the continuation of their protest vigil on the premises of the church.”

State appellate courts later upheld his ruling, leading to the Friends’ final, long-shot attempt to have their case heard before the high court.

“We stood up for what’s right,” said Maryellen Rogers, the wife of Jon Rogers who is also a spokeswoman for the Friends. “I just think it’s a shame that Cardinal [Sean] O’Malley would rather bulldoze this church than work with us.”


The archdiocese has not disclosed its plans for the lucrative property, but the vigil group suspects church officials will sell it to a developer who will replace the parish with “McMansions,” Maryellen Rogers said.

In an e-mail, Donilon said it was too soon to discuss the future of the property.

At the church on Monday afternoon, a small group of parishioners were resigned to their defeat in court but also hopeful for the independent church they plan to start.

Jon Rogers said the new church will be “all inclusive” and welcoming to all comers, including people who are often at odds with the Catholic hierarchy, such as gays and lesbians and divorcees.

Barbara Nappa, 81, a parishioner since 1973, was “disappointed but not surprised” by the Supreme Court’s denial.

“You really put your foot in the grave,” she said of the archdiocese. “Because you threw away more people who are really, truly blessed people and you didn’t care about them. You threw them out on the street.”

Nappa said permanently leaving her longtime parish will be “heartbreaking” but said the ordeal has not weakened her faith in core Catholic teachings.

“I believe in everything,” Nappa said. “I’m a Catholic college graduate, I traveled all over Rome and the Holy Land, and I belong to prayer groups and Bible studies and everything else. Nothing shakes my faith.”

Her comments were echoed by another parishioner, Heather Santosuosso, 62, who said that “God gives you what you need, and not what you want.”


“It’s kind of like a release,” Santosuosso said of the court denial. “Now we can go on without being under the control of the archdiocese, which we know can’t be trusted. . . . They’re hanging themselves by their own actions. They’re showing their true colors, and they’re starting to unravel.

“People are educated now. They’ve been getting away with a lot of things for centuries, but parishioners are educated now and they’re not going to be [mistreated] anymore.”

During the peaceful round-the-clock vigil, various parishioners would stay in the church, where lay people led regular services.

The Friends said they have two possible locations for their independent church but declined to provide details. Both properties are in Scituate, and more information will be available on May 29, the group said.

Jon Rogers said at least six priests have committed to saying Masses at the new church, but he declined to provide their names.

“We are the people. Without us, there is no church,” Rogers said. “My whole life sitting in front of the person preaching from that altar, they told us that ‘this is your church.’ . . . That was absolutely untrue, what they told me my whole life.”

He said of the archdiocese, “They’re basically selling off and destroying churches to run their businesses. Good luck with that. See how long that lasts.”

Globe correspondent J.D. Capeluto contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com. John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.