BOSTON (CN) - A group that has sitting vigil in a Massachusetts church all day, every day, for the last 11 years must pack up or face legal action, a state appeals court ruled.
Months after Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston, ordered the closure of the St. Frances X. Cabrini Church in October 2004, parishioners of the Scituate parish banded together to save their place of worship.
Along with starting a nonstop vigil on the church property, the Friends of St. Frances X. Cabrini sought legal action. Their case made it all the way to the Vatican's Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the Boston Archdiocese in 2014.
Bolstered by the Vatican's order, the archdiocese filed suit in Norfolk Superior Court to remove the vigil.
That court labeled the parishioners trespassers after holding a trial, and an appeals court affirmed last week that the must quit the premises.
Crediting the trial court's finding about the diocese's title to the property, the appellate panel cited "testimony that, from 2004 to present, [archdiocesan] representatives have visited the property, hired landscapers and snow removers, paid real estate taxes, utility, and alarm system bills, and overseen and paid for other miscellaneous repairs and expenses."
"Four defendants testified that they remained at the church despite repeatedly being asked by the RCAB to 'move on,' and there was no dispute that the defendants remained on the property after receiving the RCAB's formal notice to vacate," the Oct. 14 ruling continues, abbreviating the name Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.
The archbishop of Boston applauded the finding.
"We ask the Friends of St. Frances to respect that decision and conclude the vigil," O'Malley said in a statement. "The parishes of the archdiocese welcome and invite those involved with the vigil to participate and join in the fullness of parish life."
The Friends of St Frances have yet to leave the church and hope to either find a compromise with Cardinal O'Malley, or find some other legal solution to save their church.
"Anyone who has not participated in the vigil, you have no idea what kind of commitment of physical energy, emotional energy and spiritual energy it takes," Mary Beth Carmody, attorney for the Friends of St. Frances, said in a video statement. "These people have sat here for 11 years and asked for a meaningful dialogue with their cardinal. They have received none. It's time for Cardinal O'Malley to meet with the people of St. Frances to find out about the sex abuse crisis right here in this parish and understand the commitment of these people. Not only were they victims, but they have now, as part of their vigil, brought back disenfranchised Catholics."
The Church of St. Frances X. Cabrini in Scituate was one of several churches in Massachusetts that Cardinal O'Malley closed in the wake of the Boston Archdiocese's sex-abuse scandal, and the multimillion-dollar settlement with the church that followed.
Though church officials denied any connection between the sex-abuse scandal and the closure of churches, a 2008 filing with the Vatican court shows otherwise.
The advocate for the Boston Archdiocese testified that Cardinal O'Malley was given discretion to close churches and sell off the property to save the entire archdiocese from financial ruin.