Longest US Catholic church vigil may be coming to end

After 11 years of occupying a Roman Catholic church in Scituate, Mass., parishioners ordered by judge to leave. 

Charles Krupa/ AP/ File
Barbara Nappa, of Scituate, Mass., heads into the St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church to take her turn sitting vigil in Scituate, Mass., on Wednesday, May 20, 2015. Parishioners occupying a closed Catholic church for nearly 11 years may be at their end. A state judge has ordered the Friends of St. Frances X. Cabrini, which has occupied the church day and night since October 2004, to vacate by May 29.

The clock is once again ticking for parishioners ordered to leave a shuttered Catholic church south of Boston where they have staged a protest for nearly 11 years.

A Massachusetts judge on Friday denied a request by the Friends of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church to suspend his order that they leave the Scituate property, pending the group's appeal to a higher court.

Instead, Norfolk County Superior Court Judge Edward Leibensperger gave them a new deadline of June 5 to leave the premises.

"Defendants may, of course, continue their protest of the decision to close the parish, but they may not do so by an around-the-clock vigil in violation of the (Boston archdiocese's) property rights established by neutral principles of property law," the judge said in his ruling.

Former parishioners have kept a vigil at St. Frances since the archdiocese closed the church in 2004. They want the archdiocese to restore their parish's standing or sell them the building, and say they're prepared to be arrested as trespassers if necessary.

The Benchmark Reporter says:

At the moment this vigil is believed to be the only current occupation of a closed U.S. Catholic church. The Roman Catholic Church in the Northeast and parts of the Midwest has been merging and closing due to a multiple factors.  Financial problems aside, emptier pews and a shortage of priests seem to be major issues.

Some congregations have resisted so far by appealing to the Vatican and occupying churches. According to experts who track church closures, the St. Frances vigil has lasted the longest so far.

Parishioners mentioned that they plan to appeal the ruling to a state appeals court early next week.

“As we promised from day one, we’ll exhaust every level of recourse,” said Maryellen Rogers, an organizer of the vigil.

Earlier this month, Judge Leibensperger ruled the group was trespassing on property owned by the archdiocese and should leave before May 29. He temporarily lifted the deadline to consider the group's request, which he denied Friday.

In court filings this week, the archdiocese opposed the delay. But it hasn't said what it would do if protesters refuse to leave. A spokesman declined to comment Friday.

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