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Police remove parishioners from church sit-in

A two-month-old sit-in campaign by Boston Archdiocese Catholics has led to a parishioner being forcibly removed from a suburban church in Boston in the USA.

Parishioners from at least eight churches have been holding sit-ins, some lasting as long as two months, to protest against the Archdiocese's plan to close or consolidate 82 of its 357 parishes. The restructuring was prompted in part by economic problems caused by the sexual abuse scandal involving priests.

The Archdiocese has not disrupted the vigils, but on Saturday, at Immaculate Conception Church in the suburb of Winchester, an official for the first time had one of the protesters, Gene Sweeney, 69, removed. Sweeney was charged with trespassing and released on bail.

"This is really a crossing of the line - arresting a Catholic in a church," said Peter Borre, co-chairman of a lay group that has organised vigils at the churches slated for closing.

An archdiocese spokesman, Larry Rasky, said the priest at Immaculate Conception, Fr Thomas Foley, decided to have Mr Sweeney removed in part out of concern for his safety.

"The priest made a decision based on his judgment and, my understanding is, after conferring with a number of other parishioners," Rasky said.

Immaculate Conception, built in 1931, had about 500 parishioners, by far the smallest of the three Catholic churches in Winchester.

Church officials have said that the restructuring is a result of declining revenue and Mass attendance and a shortage of priests. Archbishop Sean O'Malley has also acknowledged the problems were made worse by the $A118 million settlement of more than 500 lawsuits stemming from the sexual abuse scandal.

Parishioner Is Removed by Force From Sit-In at Church Near Boston (New York Times/Associated Press 8/11/04)

Church struggles with change (USA Today/Yahoo 8/11/04)
New Yorkers brace for church closings (Boston Globe 8/11/04)

Boston Archbishop in plea to protesting parishioners (CathNews 17/9/04)
Italian police break parishioners' church sit-in (CathNews 24/3/04)

9 Nov 2004