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Boston Archdiocese Sells Closed Church Occupied by Protesters

The Boston Archdiocese announced Saturday that it had sold the properties of a Framingham parish that's been occupied by protesters since it was closed six years ago, but the protesters said they won't leave.

The archdiocese announced the sale of St. Jeremiah's church building, parking lot and rectory for $2 million to the Syro-Malabar diocese, a part of the Eastern Catholic Church that shares the same fundamental doctrines as the Roman Catholic Church. The archdiocese said it would put the proceeds into its remaining parishes.

"The completion of this transaction provides the Syro-Malabar community a much needed location for their parishioners," said the Rev. Walter J. Edyvean, the archdiocese's auxiliary bishop for its western region.

Protesters said they didn't know when the sale was coming, but the deal itself was no surprise. The archdiocese said this summer that the deal was in the works, and a Syro-Malabar priest has been leading a Sunday Mass at the Framingham church since 2008, with Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley's permission.

Edyvean and other church officials delivered news of the sale to parishioners Saturday morning.

"We always go in hopeful. We are always, unfortunately, disappointed," said Mary Beth Carmody, co-leader of the protesting parishioners.

Carmody said because the archdiocese said it was working on a deal this summer, the parishioners have already begun an appeal to the Vatican to block the sale. They also plan to go to the state attorney general, arguing that the archdiocese wasn't allowed to sell the building because the protesters' appeals aren't complete.

In the meantime, there's no reason that parishioners can't continue sharing the building with the Syro-Malabar community, as they've been doing, Carmody said.

"We share the facilities," she said. "We work in a cooperative way, both communities."

Terry Donilon, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said the Vatican's highest court has already ruled against the protesters, and he sees no grounds for them to go to the attorney general.

"The cardinal has provided for their pastoral care," Donilon said. "He has demonstrated great pastoral concern and patience."

St. Jeremiah's was among several churches that parishioners occupied in round-the-clock protest after the archdiocese announced a broad round of parish closings, beginning in 2004. Four closed parishes remain in vigil today.

St. Jeremiah's closed in 2005, but shortly afterward, O'Malley allowed regular Sunday services to resume there. The vigil continued, though, because the parish wasn't reopened. A group of 80 to 100 people rotated to keep the church occupied continuously.

Last year, parishioners lost their final Vatican appeal to be re-established as a parish. Meanwhile, the Syro-Malabar had begun to establish its presence there as part of the Eastern Catholic Church, which has 3 million members and conducts worship under the Eastern rite, which is different from the Latin rite followed in the Roman Catholic Church.

Carmody said their latest appeal is based on church law that she said forbids the Boston Archdiocese from transferring St. Jeremiah's from one rite to another without guaranteeing that St. Jeremiah's parishioners can continue to worship at the new church.

But Donilon said the Syro-Malabar church plans to meet with protesters to discuss continuing the Sunday services for them at the church.

Carmody said archdiocesan officials have made it clear that they hope parishioners can find a new home within the archdiocese. But she said that betrays a basic misunderstanding about the protesters: They aren't trying to save their church buildings; they're trying to save their community.

"What matters is community, what matters is the people you worship with, and that you love, and you care for and you provide for as a community," she said. "When you destroy that community, you destroy people where they live their faith."

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