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.
In a statement released Monday, the archdiocese said it had not received a formal decision from the Vatican on the appeals and would defer comment.
"The Archdiocese continues to seek a prayerful resolution to all of the vigils," the statement said.
The archdiocese also reiterated a pledge made by Cardinal Sean O'Malley that no money from the sale of any closed churches "has been used or will be used to fund settlement-related costs."
O'Malley has said that settlements with clergy sex abuse victims have been paid through the sale of other church property — primarily a portion of the archdiocese's Brighton property to Boston College — as well as insurance coverage.
"The Archdiocese has expended significant funds to fulfill its responsibility to survivors and to ensure that this tragedy never again occurs," the archdiocese said in its statement.
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, Vt.
Boston-area 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.
Nationally, there's been an overall decline in the total number of parishes from a high of approximately 19,300 in 1995 to about 18,000 in 2009, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. Some parishes have been closed, others consolidated and some larger parishes have been formed out of merged parishes. Some new parishes have opened in the South and West.
Parishioners in Boston-area churches 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.
At St. James the Great in Wellesley, a small group of parishioners did their usual vigil shifts Monday at the church.
Betty Elliott, who has been attending the church since 1961, said she wasn't surprised that Vatican officials had rejected the church's appeal, but the news left her with a "sick feeling."
"They have never had time for us. Why would they now?" she said.
Another parishioner, Delia Vargas, 67, said she blames the church closings on the clergy sex abuse scandal.
"I'm not really surprised, but I feel very sad because I think we're paying for problems that the church didn't take care of," Vargas said.
This program aired on May 17, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.