Police arrested two parishioners who attempted a vigil to keep the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston from closing their 114-year-old parish, one of 83 churches slated to be shut down or consolidated by year’s end.
Anne Green said she and Leo Ryan were handcuffed Christmas Eve at Sacred Heart Church, placed in the back of a cruiser and driven to Natick police headquarters, where they were booked on trespassing charges and briefly jailed.
They were released early Christmas morning with orders not to venture within 100 yards of the church, keeping them away from Christmas Mass on Saturday — a day before Sacred Heart is scheduled to shut down.
“This is not the way Catholics usually conduct their business. I never thought it would come to this,” Green, 54, said Saturday.
She and several other parishioners had stayed in the church after the 6 p.m. Christmas Eve Mass. Late in the evening two police officers told them to leave church or be arrested, and Green and Ryan declined.
Closures anger parishioners
Parishioners at eight other churches were continuing around-the-clock vigils to stave off the closures, which Archbishop Sean O’Malley announced last spring as part of a reorganization plan. The move was in response to in response to declining attendance, a shortage of priests and financial pressure caused in part by the clergy sex abuse crisis.
Friday’s incident in Natick is just the second time a church official has had a parishioner arrested amid the tension over church closures. A 69-year-old man was arrested after refusing to leave his closing parish in Winchester early last month. Charges were eventually dropped.
Most parishioners arriving for Mass on Christmas morning called the incident unfortunate and sad.
“We were hoping it would be peaceful,” said parishioner Paul Hegarty. “I have resigned myself to the fact that this church is closing. There is not enough people here who want to fight.”
Of the parishioners who were arrested, Hegarty said, “God love them for trying.”
O’Malley declined to answer questions as he left St. Francis House, a Boston homeless shelter, after helping serve Christmas dinner to residents.