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Scituate parishioners taking dispute to highest Vatican court

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  June 18, 2013 03:47 PM

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A nine-year fight to save a Catholic church in Scituate may finally be reaching an end, as local parishioners prepare to file one final appeal to the highest Vatican court.

An appeal to a lower Vatican court was denied on June 13, but parishioners of St. Frances X. Cabrini, who have held vigil at the church since 2004, are still optimistic.

“We will honor a promise made at the inception of the vigil to use all recourse available,” said Jon Rogers, a spokesman for the parishioner group.

Rogers said the group was disappointed that an appeal to the Congressio of the Apostolic Signatura was denied, saying that other dioceses with similar appeals have had a 75 percent success rate.

The group has subsequently instructed its attorneys in Rome to file the final appeal to the Vatican Supreme Apostolic Court, the church’s Supreme Court equivalent.

The Supreme Apostolic Court consists of five to six judges and meets twice a year. Though the group is most likely to meet in November, Rogers said the court calendar may be too congested for the appeal to be put on the schedule, and the wait may be longer.

Church parishioners are seeking to reverse a 2011 decision by the Archdiocese of Boston to deconsecrate the church, which changes the building from a place of worship into a secular space.

Church law mandates that deconsecrating occurs before churches can be sold. The archdiocese has long sought to sell the church to consolidate, prompted by dwindling collections and minimal attendance.

Already, the church has sold off the rectory on the property in early 2012.

While the appeal process churns through another round, Rogers said the group will continue to maintain a presence at the site.

“Our struggle began over nine years ago, and we will stay steadfast on this journey,” he said. “The Friends of St. Frances will carry on with their peaceful and prayerful 24/7 vigil while exhausting every possible avenue of appeal. We have steadfast faith that right will triumph over wrong and this grave injustice.”

For church officials, the near-end of the appeal process is a welcome one.

“The archdiocese has been extremely patient and believes that we really are at the end of the line,” said Terrence Donilon, a spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. “This is not helpful for the wider church, for the community, for parish life.”

Donilon said it is understandable that parishioners have mourned the loss of their church, but that the vigil and obstinacy of the group show a lack of understanding for what the remainder of the church community is feeling and attempting to do.

“The vast majority impacted by the parish closings have moved on to welcoming parishes,” Donilon said. “They weren’t thrilled about it, dancing with joy on the streets; they were upset, but they understood or at least accept that in order to be actively participating in the church you need to be part of a parish.”

Donilon said that while the church hopes to resolve the disagreement peacefully, the standoff will end.

“We’re not going to allow it to go on forever,” Donilon said. “The next question is how will you end it, but we will work for a peaceful and prayerful resolution. ... But I don’t know what else we can say or do to help them get through this period."

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