Members of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Roman Catholic Church, which the Boston Archdiocese closed 11 years ago, say they have no plans to end their longstanding occupation of the church -- even though the archdiocese originally gave them a Friday deadline to leave or else.
Since the announcement was made to close the church in October 2004, congregants have held vigils in shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- sleeping on the floor and in pews and holding Sunday service, during which the occupants recite prayers, listen to Bible readings and receive consecrated hosts secretly provided by area priests. The gatherings are lay-led services, and the Eucharist is given to the congregation by Eucharistic ministers.
To the Archdiocese of Boston, a dwindling congregation and a shortage of priests, among other factors, marked the church for closure, which the Vatican supported. But congregants say it is the 30 acres of prime, ocean-view Boston real estate the church sits on that has the hierarchy looking to sell -- and claim the archdiocese needs it to pay off clergy sex abuse cases.
"This is all about the money," Jon Rogers, the protesters' leader and a founder of the nonprofit support group, "The Friends of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini," told FoxNews.com, claiming the church was "thriving" with 3,000 registered parishioners when the decision was made to close it nearly 11 years ago.
"Here's the crux of the matter – we are sitting on one of the most valuable of piece of property in Boston," Rogers said Thursday. "And they need the money."
"You don’t get to hurt children and then steal our church to pay off your crimes," he said.
Earlier this month, a state judge ordered the protesters to vacate by as early as Friday. The occupants then filed an appeal and were granted a temporary reprieve, according to Rogers.
"There’s so much information that was submitted and the judge needs time to review it," he said.
The 30 largely undeveloped acres are worth over $4 million, by some estimates.
In an interview last August, Archdiocese spokesman Terry Donilon said the decision to close the church was part of a larger parish closure and cited a decline in Mass attendance and a "dramatic" drop in the number of priests.
Donilon strongly denied the charge that the church was being closed so the property could be sold to pay off prior legal settlements.
"We are not selling churches to pay for the legal fees of the sex abuse cases," he told FoxNews.com in August. The U.S. Catholic Church has paid close to $2.8 billion in legal costs related to clergy sex abuse cases, according to a 2013 report by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"No plans" have been discussed about what will be done with the property, which sits about a half mile from the Atlantic Ocean, Donilon also said at the time. He called the claim by congregants that the property is to be sold to a condominium developer false. Donilon was not immediately available when contacted Thursday.
Rogers and others say they believe the sweat equity they've poured into the church over the years makes it theirs, not the archdiocese's. Parishioners have maintained the 55-year-old building over the years, spending thousands of dollars on repairs and renovations, like painting and new woodwork, as well as purchasing a new furnace. The archdiocese still pays for the electricity and heat, as well as the occasional landscaping and snow plowing.
The archdiocese has declined to say what it plans to do if protesters refuse to leave. The rebel occupants say they are prepared to be arrested as trespassers, if necessary.
Rogers said he and the other congregants plan to fight the archdiocese to the very end.
"I have a spiritual belief that right will triumph over wrong," Rogers said. "In this case, we believe we are right."
"I think the higher up the chain we pursue this, the closer to vindication that we get," he said. "We will exhaust every avenue of appeal available to us. That promise hasn’t changed since Day 1."