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Vigil continues at former Scituate church despite March 9 deadline

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SCITUATE -- Vigilers at a former Scituate church continue to occupy the building despite being told by the Archdiocese of Boston to vacate the building by March 9.

The Archdiocese of Boston had issued the deadline to end the decade-long vigil at the former St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Church more than a month ago, on Feb. 3.

A series of appeals to Church officials by the group Friends of St. Francis X. Cabrini seeking to reopen the church ended in 2014 when the Church's highest court, called the Apostolic Signatura, ruled against the former parishioners and rejected their final appeal.

Archdiocesan spokesman Terrence C. Donilon said the archdiocese has respected the vigil throughout the process of appeals.

"The parishes of the archdiocese welcome those involved with the vigil to join them and to participate in the fullness of active parish life in their surrounding community. The archdiocese respected the vigil while their appeals were considered. When the highest Vatican court issued its decision, we made several attempts to acknowledge their disappointment and encourage the Friends of St. Frances X. Cabrini to conclude their vigil and join the open parishes in their community," Donilon said.

In the 2004 Parish Reconfiguration process, the archdiocese "suppressed," or legally dissolved, 70 parishes and subsequently closed most of their church buildings. In response, former parishioners at 11 parishes, including St. Frances X. Cabrini, filed appeals of the suppressions with the Vatican. In addition, former parishioners of various parishes occupied several church buildings to keep them from closing. St. Frances X. Cabrini is the last former church with an ongoing vigil.

After the Vatican upheld the archdiocese's decision to dissolve the parish in 2010, the group at St. Frances X. Cabrini directed their appeals at the right of the archdiocese to "relegate" the church building to "profane but not sordid use," or deconsecrate it. That would have severely limited the archdiocese's ability to sell or transferring the building.

Those appeals concluded unsuccessfully with the decision by the Apostolic Signatura in 2014. With that decision, the archdiocese considered all appeals exhausted.

On Feb. 3, the archdiocese asked the group to conclude their occupancy of the building by March 9, saying that otherwise the archdiocese would pursue civil recourse against the group.

"This course of action is least desirable by the archdiocese and we continue to hope for a peaceful and prayerful resolution to this only remaining vigil in the Archdiocese of Boston," Donilon said.

The attorney representing the Friends of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini, Mary Elizabeth Carmody, said she has not heard anything from the archdiocese yet regarding any kind of civil recourse.

She said the group did not simply ignore the request of the archdiocese to end their vigil, but sent a letter to remind the archdiocese that the group had sent an appeal to the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts and requested a meeting with Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley.

"We're hopeful that he will meet with us before taking any further actions," Carmody said.

She said the pontifical council holds the authority to review the 2014 ruling by the Apostolic Signatura on the final appeal.

Carmody said the group also had a letter from the Apostolic Nuncio acknowledging the appeal and forwarding it to the pontifical council.

She said the archdiocese and the group in vigil both agree that ultimately the solution to the issue must be prayerful and peaceful.

"We all want a prayerful, peaceful resolution. Litigation is not the answer. Indeed, I think, were the archdiocese to go forward with litigation against the people of St. Frances not only would that be very unfair, but it also, I believe, would fail legally in the courts in Massachusetts," she said.

Carmody also said the archdiocese could benefit from the kind of dedication shown by those holding the vigil, as the archdiocese and the Church face issues like a decline in Mass attendance and outright abandonment of the faith by those impacted by parish closings or the sexual abuse crisis.

"The people of St. Frances could easily have walked away. They haven't done that. I think that it's time for the archdiocese, and particularly the cardinal, to acknowledge that and to honor that," she said.

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