Nearly a decade has passed since the doors of the Saint Frances Cabrini Catholic Church were shut and its holy water dried up.
With the Archdiocese of Boston strapped for cash, it was one of dozens of churches in the area to be closed and sold off. At the time, the archdiocese was in the throes of the clergy sex abuse crisis. It had agreed to pay nearly $85 million to more than 500 people who said they were abused by priests.
The closing of the church took parishioners in Scituate, Mass., about 30 miles south of Boston, by surprise. The locks were changed in the middle of the night, but a side door of the church had not been properly closed.
That’s when parishioners decided to take back “their” church. They sneaked in.
Since October, 2004, followers have continuously occupied the building. Turns are taken sleeping in the church as part of their 24-hour, seven-day-a-week vigil. They’ve kept the candles lit, the heat on and the lawn mowed. With no priests, parishioners hold services themselves.
“For the last 50 years, every priest from the pulpit has told us this is our church,” parishioner Jon Rogers tells NPR’s Rachel Martin in an interview. “It was our church up until the time they said now we need to liquidate their asset, to basically pay for the horrific crimes of sexual abuse.”
Despite the financial crisis, Rogers says the Catholic Church can’t just tell them to get out. The church was built on land given by the community and built with their donations.
“Well, guess what?” Rogers asks. “We are not going to give it up. We truly believe it is ours.”
The Archdiocese of Boston does not see it that way. It has stood its ground, patiently outwaiting nearly all of the churches that initially refused to close. Nearly 10 years on, worshipers in this seaside town are the last holdouts.
A resolution, however, could be imminent. The parishioners’ appeals have worked their way through the Church’s legal system. The Vatican’s highest court is set to rule this spring.
If the decision does not go their way, this might be the last Easter celebrated in this church.
That would be a huge shame, Rogers says. With its service and the Easter egg hunt, it’s the most exciting day of the year. The entire parish gathers, he says, with upwards of 800 people attending.
Even if the Vatican decides against them, it’s not entirely clear the protestors would give up their church. “We bought, paid for it, and today maintain it,” says Rogers. “So we’re keeping it.”