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O'Malley denies requests for Mass at closed parishes

Move viewed as comment on vigils

Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley has restricted the supply of priests to closed parishes occupied by protesters this Holy Week, in an apparent indication that the archdiocese is losing patience with the parish vigils that have been dragging on for as long as a year and a half.

O'Malley spurned requests for clergy from people occupying closed parishes in East Boston, Scituate, and Wellesley, and declined to allow priests for Holy Thursday and Good Friday at a closed parish in Framingham. He did allow a priest to preside over a full complement of Holy Week liturgies at a church in Sudbury that has been occupied by protesters around the clock for 19 months, because that church, St. Anselm, was reopened by the archdiocese as a chapel of a nearby parish.

The archdiocese declined to offer an explanation for the decisions, which were communicated to the protesters through telephone calls from the cardinal's secretary. Spokesman Terrence C. Donilon would say only, ''It's the cardinal's hope and prayer that [the vigils] end in a prayerful manner."

Six parishes, of 62 closed by the archdiocese since the summer of 2004, have been occupied around the clock by protesters who seek to reverse the decisions. The parishioners are challenging the closings in church courts in Rome, and, in several cases, in civil courts in Massachusetts.

Last year, O'Malley allowed priests to say Mass at some closed parishes after two threatened to hire married priests, who are unsanctioned by the diocese, to preside. And O'Malley has allowed priests to say Christmas Mass at closed parishes.

Some protesters are angry that O'Malley will not allow priests to say Mass for them this week.

''We still cannot understand why the cardinal has denied us a priest to say Mass on Holy Thursday and Easter Vigil -- when we had (and still have) a priest ready, willing and able to celebrate with us," said Mary Beth Carmody, a leader of the protest at the closed St. Jeremiah church in Framingham, which was allowed a priest for Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. ''There is no adequate explanation for this denial during our most holy week of the church year. We still hope and pray that the cardinal will change his mind."

Others were more understanding.

''He denied us, even after we went back a couple of times, and we had a priest in good standing lined up and ready to go if he got the cardinal's blessing," said Jon Rogers, a leader of the protest at the St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Scituate. ''But at this point, he was focused on other things. You can tell he's working hard, with the departure of Bishop Lennon and the reorganization, so we're pleased, and we're hoping maybe soon it will be our turn."

In East Boston, protest leader Gina Scalcione said the archdiocese denied a request for a priest to say Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and in Wellesley, protest leader Suzanne Hurley reported a similar response to a request for the St. James the Great church.

''Unfortunately our repeated requests for a priest to serve during Holy Week have been denied by the cardinal," Hurley said. But, outlining a plan similar to that at other closed parishes, Hurley said, ''We will have lay-led Communion services, etc., during Holy Week."

Peter Borre, a cochairman of the Council of Parishes, an alliance of people unhappy with the closings, said another parish occupied by protesters, St. Therese in Everett, did not request a priest.

Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com.

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