Boston Archdiocese, Catholic Parishioners Battle Over Church Eviction Parishioners in Scituate, Mass., are being sued for eviction after holding on to their church for 11 years. The archdiocese wants to close it because of dropping attendance and financial hardship.

Boston Archdiocese, Catholic Parishioners Battle Over Church Eviction

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The Catholic Archdiocese of Boston went to court this week. It's trying to evict a group of parishioners from a church in Massachusetts. The question is whose church is it? Craig LeMoult of member station WGBH report.

CRAIG LEMOULT, BYLINE: When you walk into the front vestibule of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Church in the seaside town of Scituate, it doesn't look or sound like your average church.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) What the hell are you doing?

LEMOULT: "The Young And The Restless" is on a big-screen TV, and two La-Z-Boy chairs are set up in front of it, all right next to a stained glass window.

NANCY SHILTS: We have a TV here. We have a puzzle here. We have a kitchen here so that we can eat.

LEMOULT: Nancy Shilts is one of more than a hundred parishioners who have taken turns holding vigil in the church night and day since the Archdiocese announced more than 10 and a half years ago it wanted to close the church. St. Francis wasn't alone. The Archdiocese said in 2004 it was closing nearly a quarter of its churches as a result of declining attendance, not enough priests, and financial problems that were compounded by settlements from the clergy sex abuse scandal. Boston was at the center of that crisis. Parishioners from nine of those churches protested by going into vigil, but St. Francis is the last one still going. The church is on about 30 acres near the ocean, and the says the Archdiocese decision to sell the property was just about the money. Parishioner Mary Ellen Rogers says this isn't just real estate. It's her spiritual home.

MARY ELLEN ROGERS: You just can't take a faith community and say, you can go here or there. It breaks up a community. This is our church. We've always been told this is our church, and we'll do whatever it takes to protect our church.

LEMOULT: It comes down to the question of what ownership really means. Thomas Groome directs the Church in the 21st Century Center at Boston College.

THOMAS GROOME: The Catholic Church traditionally has taught its people that they belong to a particular parish and that a particular parish belongs to them.

LEMOULT: In Scituate, they're taking that quite literally.

JOHN ROGERS: We put a bed in a long time ago because the Aero mattresses kept on losing air.

LEMOULT: Mary Ellen Rogers' husband, John, says they're OK with the diocese selling off most of the 30 acres and that they've told the archbishop they just want to keep the church building.

J.ROGERS: Open this up as a fully functioning parish - even consider selling back our church. But you know something? Take the 3,000 registered parishioners and what at one point was a vibrant community, and let's negotiate it as something that basically we can live with and you can live with. And his response is dragging me into court.

LEMOULT: A spokesman for the archbishop declined to comment because of that pending court case. The Archdiocese said earlier, they only brought the case because the Vatican had rejected all the parishioners' appeals. The parishioners claim they still have one more pending. In court this week, there wasn't much question over who the property legally belongs to. The first witness was a real estate lawyer who explained the Archdiocese is listed on the deed. But the parishioners haven't given up hope that the judge will throw the case out, deciding it's really an ecclesiastical dispute. And for now, the parishioners are not saying if they'll leave the church if the civil case doesn't go their way. For NPR News, I'm Craig LeMoult in Boston.

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