The Vatican has denied the appeals of Twin Cities parishes protesting their mergers with other congregations as part of the archdiocese's reorganization plan.

Members of St. Austin in north Minneapolis were told Sunday about the Vatican's decision that the parish should merge with nearby St. Bridget. St. John's Church in St. Paul, which is set to merge with St. Pascal Baylon, also recently got word its appeal was rejected.

Angered over the Vatican's response and the possibility of St. Austin's closing, Jerie Greve said Wednesday she's considering getting together a group of like-minded church members and staging a sit-in at St. Austin's.

"I will never go to St. Bridget's," said Greve, 81, who's attended St. Austin's for 42 years. Greve and her son Tom, a reader and eucharistic minister, are in the group that appealed to the Vatican.

"We're still going to fight. We're going to try," she said.

The archdiocese announced nearly a year ago its plan to reorganize churches and schools to grapple with tighter budgets, changing demographics and a projected shortage of priests.

The plan calls for 21 parishes to fold into 14 "receiving" parishes by 2013. Most of those mergers have already occurred, and at least three church buildings have closed since the reorganization began this year.

Holy Cross keeps pressing

Four of the 21 parishes, however, appealed to the Vatican.

In addition to St. Austin and St. John's, Holy Cross in Minneapolis also received notice that the Vatican had rejected its appeal. But the church hasn't let the issue die just yet. It's taken the appeal to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the highest judicial authority in the Catholic Church, and is awaiting word on its decision.

The archdiocese has not commented directly about the appeals because it has to remain at "arms-length from this," said Dennis McGrath, archdiocesan spokesman. "It has to be between the parish and the appellants and the Vatican. We can't insert ourselves in the process."

Archdiocese officials have, however, defended the reorganization process and say it is the result of 20 months of study and consultation with clergy, parish leaders and staff, and parishioners.

The archdiocese has grown to nearly 800,000 members in the past decade, but officials say some buildings are clustered in areas where the population can no longer sustain more than one parish or school.

Greve said St. Austin's is not riddled with debt, is self-sustaining and should not have to merge. But if St. Austin is to merge with St. Bridget, she believes her church building should remain open and used for worship.

"It's like my second family," Greve said. "My husband died almost 29 years ago. I was just lost. We were going to the church at that time, but there was a group of us that started an arts and crafts group, and that was my therapy. It saved me. It's just such a close group."

Appeals face hard climb

The Rev. Tom Reese, a religious scholar with Woodstock Theological Center in Washington, D.C., said churches like St. Austin's that get rejected by the Vatican can try to keep their appeals alive -- as in the case with Holy Cross -- though they're often fighting a losing battle.

"It's extremely rare for the Vatican to overturn a bishop's decision to close or merge a parish," Reese said.

An exception would be if proper procedures were not followed, he said.

"I'd be willing to bet money the Signatura is going to uphold the decision," Reese added. "It would be extraordinary for them to overrule."

Rose French • 612-673-4352