SCITUATE, Mass. (CNS) — Parishioners occupying a Massachusetts Catholic church for more than a decade are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review and reverse a lower court decision calling for their removal from church property.
Friends of St. Frances X. Cabrini, the organization that has occupied the church in the Boston Archdiocese since Oct. 24, 2004, filed the request March 1, attorney Mary Beth Carmody said.
“This is a case the court could very well take,” Carmody told Catholic News Service March 7, admitting, however, that “the odds are long.”
The petition for review follows a Massachusetts Court of Appeals decision that agreed with the archdiocese’s claim that the parishioners were trespassing on church property.
The parishioners contend in the filing that the appeals court decision violates the First and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution as well as the directives of a 1979 Supreme Court case related to ownership of church property. The filing said the case presents constitutional issues in church property disputes throughout the country and should be taken up by the Supreme Court.
“It is vital that we get our day in court and we are reaching out to all for support through prayers and donations,” parishioner Jon Rogers said in a statement released March 4.
The Archdiocese of Boston has agreed to let the parishioners remain in the building pending the outcome of the appeal.
The request to the Supreme Court represents that the group’s last effort to reopen the parish.
The Friends of St. Frances X. Cabrini have led an around-the-clock vigil in the Scituate church, after the archdiocese suppressed, or legally dissolved, the parish. The closing was one of 65 in the archdiocese under a plan to address changing demographics, declining Mass attendance and a shortage of priests.
Rogers and members of the organization believe their parish is among dozens that were closed in response to the costs associated with the costs of lawsuits and settlements related to the clergy sexual abuse crisis.
Former parishioners at 11 parishes, including St. Frances X. Cabrini, filed appeals of the suppressions with the Vatican while some took part in vigils in church buildings to keep them from being closed. After several rounds of appeals, the Vatican upheld the archdiocese’s right to dissolve the parishes in 2010. St. Frances X. Cabrini is the last former church with an ongoing vigil.
The history of the civil case goes back to 2005, when St. Frances Cabrini parishioners argued in court that they held an “equitable interest” in the property — claiming that the archdiocese held the property in trust to benefit members of the parish. Courts dismissed the lawsuit and the dismissal has been held up on appeal.
On Dec. 3, Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court denied any further review of the case.