SCITUATE, Mass. (AP) — For more than 11 years, a core group of about 100 die-hard parishioners of St. Frances X. Cabrini Church kept their beloved parish open by maintaining an around-the-clock vigil in a peaceful protest of a decision by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston to close it.
On Sunday, the parishioners' efforts came to an end as they vacated the Scituate church many of them have attended for decades. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear their final appeal, leaving them no choice but to end their fight.
The group held a final service Sunday, a "celebration of faith and transition," the parishioners said, before leaving the church. Dozens of parishioners gathered in the church's entryway ahead of the service, many of them embracing.
During the service, a handful of empty pews dotted a sea of churchgoers, many of whom openly cried. About a dozen quilts, some of them depicting each year of the vigil, decorated the church's walls. At the service's conclusion, families retrieved the quilts and formed a procession, carrying them down the aisles and through the church's doors.
The case was heard in civil courts and went all the way to the Vatican, but the parishioners were unsuccessful in persuading church officials to keep St. Frances open.
A Superior Court judge ruled that the archdiocese was the legal owner of the church property and had the right to evict the parishioners occupying the church building. That ruling was upheld by the state Appeals Court.
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, starting in Boston but extending throughout the world.
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 was the last church to remain occupied.
The archdiocese hopes the protesters will go to another parish within the district, archdiocese spokesman Terrence Donilon said.
Associated Press writer Denise Lavoie in Boston contributed to this report.