Vatican Rejects Appeal of Closed Boston Churches

Pope Benedict XVI blesses faithful from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, May 16, 2010.
AP/L'Osservatore Romano
The Vatican has rejected final appeals by 10 parishes closed by the Archdiocese of Boston in the wake of the clergy sex abuse scandal, leaving parishioners to consider fighting the closings in civilian courts, the leader of a parish advocacy group said Monday.

Peter Borre, co-chairman of the Council of Parishes, said a canon law expert for the groups told him Monday that the appeals were denied May 7 by the highest authority for parishioner appeals at the Vatican.

The archdiocese announced the closings of dozens of churches in 2004, citing falling attendance, a priest shortage and financial problems, but has denied the closings were a direct result of the clergy sex abuse scandal. The closings came a year after the archdiocese settled more than 500 claims for $85 million.

Three of the churches have had sit-ins going on round-the-clock for more than five years. Parishioners at two other churches, who did not appeal to the Vatican, have also held nonstop vigils.

The decision leaves parishioners with no other recourse within the church to fight to keep open the parishes, Borre said, adding he did not expect the parishioners to back down now. Borre said the group is considering filing a federal lawsuit.

"We expect the vigils to continue, so it's up to the archdiocese to decide whether to call in the cops," he said.

A spokesman for the archdiocese had no immediate comment.

Since the sex abuse scandal broke in Boston, at least $2.5 billion has been paid in settlements, including a settlement of 26 claims for almost $18 million last week in Montpelier, Vermont.

Parishioners said they are considering a federal lawsuit and may also fight the closings by challenging the archdiocese's right to relegate a church from a sacred use into a nonreligious use.

"We're not giving it up voluntarily, I can promise you that," said Jon Rogers, a parishioner at St. Frances X. Cabrini of Scituate who has spent countless nights at the church since October 2004.

"The vigiling churches are living proof that the parishioners will not stand for abuse, whether it be physical, whether it be spiritual, whether it be financial. We have drawn a line in the sand and said, 'It ends here,"' he said.

A total of 66 parishes were closed or consolidated, reducing the total number of parishes in the Boston archdiocese from 357 to 291.

Parishioners bitterly protested the closings, many arguing that their churches were spiritually vibrant and financially solvent.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who was named to lead the Boston archdiocese in 2003 after Cardinal Bernard Law resigned as Boston's archbishop during the clergy sex abuse crisis, said the closing process was agonizing but necessary.

"At times I ask God to call me home and let someone else finish this job," O'Malley wrote in a letter to all members of the archdiocese in November 2004.

Borre said parishioners will continue to press for accountability by church leaders and "to compel bishops to stop using parishes as ATMs to pay the piper for clergy sex abuse."