Occupy St. Frances: Massachusetts parish won't give up their church

(CBS News) SCITUATE, Massachusetts -- In 2004, in the wake of Boston's priest sex abuse crisis, the city's Catholic Archdiocese, citing low church attendance, a shortage of priests and financial troubles, announced a reorganization which included the closing of dozens of churches. In one of those -- St. Frances in the seaside community of Scituate -- a group of loyal parishioners have staged a sit-in that's been going on for eight years.

14-year-old triplets Sean, Scott and Christian Arnold have been spending Friday nights at the church since they were 6 years old.
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Every Friday night, Christine Arnold and her 14-year-old triplets Sean, Scott and Christian arrive for their overnight shift at St. Frances church. The triplets have been coming here since they were six years old.

By now, they say, it would be weird to spend their Fridays anywhere else.

"It just wouldn't feel right," said Arnold. "This is kind of like our second home here."

More than 100 parishioners take shifts occupying St. Frances, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The parish was officially closed in October 2004, for having low attendance. The Archdiocese claimed it was a financial necessity. The parishioners fear if they leave, the Archdiocese will lock them out and sell the 30-acre seaside property.

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"From day one, we've said our goal is to reopen as a fully functioning parish within the Archdiocese of Boston," said Maryellen Rogers. "The reason we're here is to make change and change hasn't happened. We were a vibrant parish, closing down vibrant parishes is not the solution."

St. Frances has played a central role in Rogers' life. "I was baptized in this church, I received my first communion, I received my confirmation, I was married here and my father and brother were buried out of this church so it is my sacramental home," she said.

The parishioners have one last appeal and are awaiting a ruling from the Vatican.

"We are trying to understand and the fact that this process has gone on so long I think is certainly a symbol of our understanding, the fact that we recognize that this is difficult," said Sister Marian Batho, who represents the Archdiocese.

No priest has said mass at the church in eight years, but those holding vigil have their own church service every Sunday morning.

"This is a family bonding moment, like, helping this church get open," said Christian Arnold. "And this family wouldn't be the same without this church. This church is our family."

And it is a family these parishioners have to no plans to abandon, no matter what the Vatican's final decision.

  • Elaine Quijano

    Elaine Quijano was named a CBS News correspondent in January 2010. Quijano reports for "CBS This Morning" and the "CBS Evening News," and contributes across all CBS News platforms. She is based in New York.

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