BOSTON (AP) — For more than 11 years, die-hard parishioners of St. Frances X. Cabrini church maintained a constant vigil there in hopes of reversing a decision by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston to close it as part of a broad restructuring plan.
Those hopes ended on Monday, though, when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by the parishioners' group.
"This is a very sad day for us," said Jon Rogers, a spokesman for Friends of St. Frances Cabrini, a group that also pressed its case all the way to the Vatican. "I truly believe the archdiocese has stolen this from us — our spiritual home."
A Superior Court judge ruled that the archdiocese is the legal owner of the suburban Boston church property and has the right to evict the parishioners occupying the church building. That ruling was upheld by the state Appeals Court.
Rogers said the parishioners had agreed to leave the church within 14 days if the high court declined to hear the case. He said the core group of about 100 parishioners intends to end it occupation on May 29, following a celebration of transition service.
The parishioners plan to start their own independent Catholic church, outside the archdiocese, he said.
"We will basically be transitioning into an all-inclusive, independent Catholic church that welcomes all," he said.
St. Frances X. Cabrini was one of more than 75 parishes closed by the archdiocese to deal with declining Mass attendance, a shortage of priests and deteriorating church buildings. The closings came after a clergy sex abuse crisis rocked the Catholic Church.
Parishioners of some of the closed churches rebelled and held around-the-clock vigils in the churches. At one point, nine churches were occupied by parishioners. St. Frances X. Cabrini, in Scituate, 30 miles southeast of Boston, is the last church to remain occupied.
The archdiocese hopes the protesters will go to another parish within the archdiocese, archdiocese spokesman Terrence Donilon said.
"The parishes of the Archdiocese welcome and invite those involved with the vigil to participate and join in the fullness of parish life," Donilon said in a statement.
Rogers released few details on plans to start a new church but said the parishioners' group has two possible venues where they hope to hold services. He said the group has "a long list of clergy that are willing to basically join us on this new journey."