Parishioners of a half-dozen closed Roman Catholic churches fighting to reopen their parishes for many as eight years have suffered another setback—but they aren’t ready to give up yet.
A Vatican department has rejected all six groups’ appeals of a decision by Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, to make the churches available for non-religious use.
But five of the six churches plan to appeal to the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court, according to their representatives.
“It’s like the Red Sox—it’s a remarkably consistent string of losses,” said Peter Borre, who advises parishioner groups appealing to the Vatican. “It’s not an easy decision to go forward. … Within these groups, there are folks who say it’s time to move on, and others who say, no, we’ll push this to the end.”
Terrence C. Donilon, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said yesterday that it is time for those protesting the closures to accept the cardinal’s decision.
“We’ve been extremely patient; eight years is a long time,” Donilon said. “We’ve gone to great lengths to offer them an opportunity to join a welcoming parish. They are not living out the fullness of parish life.”
The petitioners were particularly disappointed by the Vatican’s latest rulings because parishioners from closed churches elsewhere in the country have had some surprising success of late.
Borre, who has helped dozens of parishioner groups take their cases to Rome, said that since January 2011, the Vatican has issued more than two dozen decrees favorable to churches fighting to re-open in the dioceses of Springfield, Buffalo, Cleveland, Albany, N.Y., and Allentown, Pa.
The six Boston-area churches were among 66 parishes the archdiocese closed in 2004 and 2005 to address a priest shortage, financial strain, and declining Mass attendance.
A number of them were occupied by parishioners—in some cases for years; a few still are. St. Frances X. Cabrini in Scituate remains most actively “in vigil,” with a rotating crew of volunteers maintaining a presence in the church around the clock and holding regular services each week.
“The story hasn’t changed,” Jon Rogers, a leader of the St. Frances group, told the Globe earlier this month. “We plan to exhaust every appeal open to us.”
Borre said Star of the Sea in Squantum, Our Lady of Mount Carmel in East Boston, and Our Lady of Lourdes in Revere have also decided to appeal to the Apostolic Signatura.
He said he did not have information on the status of St. James the Great, in Wellesley. But Suzanne Hurley, one of the St. James vigilers, said Tuesday evening that the group plans to continue fighting.
“The vigil is ongoing, and we are planning to pursue an appeal,” she said.
The town of Wellesley, with voters’ approval, hopes to buy St. James from the archdiocese, but the sale cannot go through until the appeal process is over, Donilon said.
Borre said parishioners of St. Jeanne D’Arc in Lowell are still considering their options. They learned only last week that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy had ruled against them.
Borre said he expects the final petition to take six to nine months to resolve. It may be a two-step process, he added; if the clerk to the Apostolic Signatura denies the groups’ request to be heard, he said, the parishioners can still take their case to a screening panel of judges.
“That could easily take us to the end of this year, or well into next year,” he said.