Fate of Massachusetts Catholic church to be determined at trial

A 10-year-long standoff between dozens of parishioners of a Scituate Catholic church and the Archdiocese of Boston appears to be heading for a trial, with both sides expected to assert that they are the rightful owners of the church. The Boston Archdiocese officially closed St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church in

A 10-year-long standoff between dozens of parishioners of a Scituate Catholic church and the Archdiocese of Boston appears to be heading for a trial, with both sides expected to assert that they are the rightful owners of the church.

The Boston Archdiocese officially closed St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church in 2004, as part of a consolidation amid declines in attendance and funding. But parishioners devoted to the church never left: they have conducted a vigil, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, hoping for a reprieve from the closure order.

The archdiocese recently filed a lawsuit asking a court to find that the parishioners are trespassing and to order them out of the church. With the suit, they filed a request for a preliminary injunction, which if granted would have evicted the parishioners pending a trial on the trespassing issue.

On Friday, Judge Edward P. Leibensperger declined to issue an injunction and instead ordered the parties to go to trial, beginning with a conference scheduled for Thursday in Norfolk Superior Court and the trial within 30 days of that. But Leibensperger’s order imposes severe limits on the issues that the parishioners can raise.

The trial will be limited to the archdiocese’s “proof that it has the right to possession” of the church, the judge wrote.

“The trial will not concern defendants’ alleged further appeal with the ecclesiastical process regarding the closing of the parish or ownership of the church,” Leibensperger continued. “Such matters are beyond the jurisdiction of the court.”

In addition, Leibensperger wrote, the trial “will not concern defendants’ arguments that they somehow are equitable owners of the Church or that the Church should be held for them under the legal theory that the archdiocese holds the church for the parishioners in trust.”

Mary Beth Carmody, an attorney for the parishioners, said they look forward to a trial.

“It’s a victory that the preliminary injunction was not granted,” Carmody said. “It’s a good thing that it’s going to trial on the merits. We look forward to a trial.

“The archdiocese has brought an action against us for trespass. But one cannot trespass on one’s own property. That’s our principle.”

Terrence C. Donilon, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said in a statement that, “The parishes of the Archdiocese welcome those involved with the vigil to join them and to participate in the fullness of active parish life in their surrounding community.”

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