Sit-Ins at Boston-Area Churches Set to Close

Parishioners at two Roman Catholic churches earmarked for closure by the Boston Archdiocese (search) continued sit-ins Friday after a legal setback in their battle against the plan, and members of a third church planned their own occupation.

The parishes — St. Albert the Great in Weymouth, St. Anselm in Sudbury and St. Bernard in Newton — are among 82 that Bishop Sean P. O'Malley (search) ordered shut by year's end in a restructuring prompted by falling attendance and economic woes caused partly by the clergy sex abuse scandal (search) that began in Boston.

St. Albert parishioners, who have occupied that church since Aug. 29, went to court seeking an injunction to stop the archdiocese from selling church buildings and other assets, arguing that the church belongs to them, not the archdiocese. They also argue that St. Albert's, with 1,600 families, a paid-off mortgage and renovated buildings, fits none of the criteria O'Malley said would be used to decide which churches would be shuttered.

Superior Court Judge Thomas E. Connolly rejected their arguments Wednesday, citing the First Amendment and saying the court could not involve itself in a dispute between church members.

The judge stopped short of dismissing the lawsuit altogether, however, and a spokesman for the parishioners said they still hoped to save their church in court.

"We're merely holding a vigil," Colin Riley told The Boston Globe. "We built the property, we paid for it, we own the property."

At St. Anselm's, occupied by members since last Sunday, keys to the red-brick church were supposed to be turned over to a real estate company at noon Wednesday.

"It's 12:15, and we're still open," said parish finance council member Jack Ryan, who received a standing ovation from about 160 members and supporters.

The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, an archdiocese spokesman, said church leaders had not taken any action at St. Anselm's or St. Albert's because the bishop does not want confrontation.

Coyne also said the archdiocese is looking for a mediator to help resolve the standoffs and acknowledged concerns of sit-ins at still more churches tagged for closure.

St. Bernard's parishioners said their sit-in would begin Oct. 24, the day of the last scheduled Mass. Parishioners told the Globe that as many as 60 people had signed up to participate.