Parishioners appealing judge's order to vacate closed church

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BOSTON (AP) — For nearly 11 years now, parishioners have protested the closing of their church on the Massachusetts seacoast, keeping round-the-clock vigil there and holding Sunday services even though the Roman Catholic Church has de-consecrated the sanctuary.

Thursday, the Friends of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church continued to stand their ground, announcing plans to appeal a judge's order to vacate the church by May 29. They also will appeal the judicial decisions leading up to the ruling and want the judge's order suspended, pending a decision by the Massachusetts Appeals Court, said Mary Elizabeth Carmody, an attorney for the group.

"There were a number of decisions that handcuffed us at trial," Carmody said.

The motions were filed in Norfolk Superior Court, where Judge Edward Leibensperger held the one-day trial earlier this month. The trial focused on the question: Who holds title to the church land?

Leibensperger said the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston owns the property in Scituate and he declared the parishioners trespassers. He declined to address church law issues raised by the protesters, who now argue that he didn't properly consider their arguments.

The protesters represent the last of six Boston-area parishes where groups occupied the churches to prevent their closure during a parish consolidation in 2004. The archdiocese blames the closures on falling attendance, a priest shortage and financial problems. But protesters say they are the archdiocese's way of paying for clergy sex-abuse settlements.

An archdiocese spokesman declined to comment Thursday, citing the ongoing litigation.

The Friends of St. Frances have been occupying the now-deconsecrated church since October 2004, with at least one former parishioner holding vigil there day and night and supporters holding Sunday services.

The archdiocese took the group to court this year after protesters refused to end their vigil, despite losing an appeal before a Vatican high court.

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