SCITUATE, Mass. (CNS) — Parishioners who have maintained a presence in a closed church in the Archdiocese of Boston since 2004 said they planned to form an independent Catholic community after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected their appeal.
A representative of the Friends of Frances X. Cabrini, the organization that has occupied the church, said members would meet May 29 to “finalize their transition.”
The group previously said its members would leave the church within 14 days of the court’s ruling.
Terrence J. Donilon, archdiocesan director of communications welcomed the high court’s decision and wrote in an email that the archdiocese hoped the group would end their vigil as promised. “The parishes of the archdiocese welcome and invite those involved with the vigil to participate and join in the fullness of parish life,” Donilon wrote.
“We are proud that we have brought these important issues to the U.S. Supreme Court and are confident that other parishes in similar closure situations will build on our shoulders to carry these matters forward to a successful decision in the court,” Jon Rogers, a spokesman of the friends group, said in a statement shortly after the court announced its decision May 16.
“From inception of this journey, we promised two things: to exhaust every level of recourse, be it canonical or civil, and that we have done. The second promise was that the Friends of St. Frances X. Cabrini will remain together as a faithful Catholic worship community and go on with our without the Archdiocese of Boston,” Rogers said.
The friends group has been rebuffed in several attempts to gain legal footing for their effort to keep the church open. They began an around-the-clock presence in the church south of Boston Oct. 24, 2004, and have held prayer services and liturgies led by sympathetic clergy over the years.
The justices did not comment on their order.
With the order, a Massachusetts Court of Appeals decision that found the parishioners were trespassing on church property stands. In December, Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court denied review of the case, leading to the former parishioners’ petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The decision opens the door for the archdiocese to sell the property.
After initially seeking to evict the parishioners, the archdiocese more recently let them remain in the building as their appeals wound through the courts.
The Friends of Frances X. Cabrini have led the around-the-clock vigil in the church since the archdiocese suppressed, or legally dissolved, the parish. The closing was one of 65 in the archdiocese under a plan to address changing demographics, a decline 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 cost associated with the lawsuits and settlements related to the clergy sexual abuse crisis.
Former parishioners at 11 churches, including St. Frances X. Cabrini, filed appeals of the suppressions with the Vatican while some took part in vigils in the church buildings to prevent 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.