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An attempt to start a sit-in at a closing Natick parish was thwarted after local police were asked by the pastor to intervene.
Church officials were “aware and supportive” of a pastor’s actions that diffused a sit-in at Sacred Heart Parish and resulted in the arrest of two parishioners on Dec. 25, said Ann Carter, a spokesperson for the archdiocese.
Another spokesperson, Kelly Lynch, said the actions in did not represent an overall change in the archdiocese’s approach to protesters.
"The decisions made at Sacred Heart were based on circumstances particular to this parish," she said. "Representatives of the archdiocese worked closely with the local pastor in requesting the assistance of local law enforcement officials."
Several Sacred Heart parishioners stayed after the 6:00 p.m. Mass on Christmas Eve in order to hold a vigil. The pastor, Father Joseph Slyva, called police and asked them to help remove the protestors. Just after midnight the police arrested two parishioners — Anne Green and Leo Ryan — when they refused to leave the church.
Green and Ryan were released from jail the next morning but barred from coming within 100 feet of the church. They were scheduled to be arraigned Dec. 28 on trespassing charges, but after church officials asked Middlesex County prosecutors on Dec. 27 not to pursue charges, prosecutors filed a motion to dismiss them on Dec. 28.
The arrests were the first made with the consent of archdiocese during reconfiguration, a process that will lead to the closure of over 80 parishes. Eight vigils are currently being held in the archdiocese. The only other arrest was made when a parishioner attempted to begin a sit-in at Immaculate Conception Church in Winchester last November. Despite repeated requests from the pastor, a lone elderly parishioner refused to leave the church after the closing Mass. The pastor then sought the assistance of two off-duty police officers who had attended the parish’s closing Mass. One of the officers proceeded to arrest the man. The archdiocese requested that charges be dropped in that case as well.
Over a dozen parishioners made a second attempt at occupation of Sacred Heart after the parish’s final Mass on Dec. 26 after an announcement by parishioner Paul Quigley.
"We felt that the archdiocese's actions were horrific, in arresting parishioners who were members of this church for decades," Quigley said by phone from inside the church.
Police cruisers from Natick and Wellesley arrived at the church around 12:30 p.m. Police blocked the doors and warned parishioners that they would be arrested if they did not leave, however no arrests were made.
Less than an hour after police arrived, the protesters filed out of the building.
The Archdiocese of Boston said in a statement that the “vast majority” of those at the church left immediately following the final Mass. The “small group” that sought to remain “was urged to leave by parishioners and the pastor and, ultimately, these individuals did leave,” the statement said.
Moderator of the curia Bishop Richard G. Lennon was grateful to those who left peacefully, the statement added.
"While recognizing the sadness and difficulty associated with the closing of a parish, Bishop Lennon expressed his gratitude to Father Joseph Slyva and the parishioners of Sacred Heart for their reverent conduct during the closing Mass and work during recent months to assist one another in the transition to new parishes," the statement continued.
The next church to close as part of the archdiocesan reconfiguration process, Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Belmont, closed without incident. The archdiocese released a statement concerning the Dec. 31 closure.
Parishioners celebrated the final Mass “peacefully and prayerfully” and Bishop Lennon was grateful for their reverence and the work of their pastor, Father James J. McGowan, the statement said.
"Bishop Lennon expressed his gratitude to Father McGowan and the parishioners at Our Lady of Mercy for their hard work during this period of transition and for their reverent conduct at the closing liturgy," the statement continued.
Our Lady of Mercy was originally scheduled to close on Nov. 18 but was granted an extension in November at the request of Father McGowan.
"We are grateful that the extension we were granted allowed our parish community to celebrate a final Christmas at Our Lady of Mercy," said Father McGowan in the archdiocesan statement. "Many in our parish have already made the transition to new parish communities and look forward to continuing their active participation in the Church with new friends and neighbors."
AP materials contributed to this report