MALAGA, NJ (CBS) – Members of a now-closed Catholic Church in South Jersey who have taken over the building in hopes of reopening it are buoyed by a recent Vatican panel decision that could reopen several shuttered churches in the Allentown, Pa. area (see related story).

The Vatican’s “Congregation for the Clergy,” in dealing with an appeal from Allentown parishioners, ruled that the bishop did not have what it called a “grave reason” to close the buildings.

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At St. Mary’s in Malaga, NJ, where a sit-in is now in its third month (see previous story), parishioner Leah Vassallo is cautiously optimistic.

“They’re not accepting the appeals of the mergers themselves, but what they’re doing is they’re overturning the decisions to close churches within the merger,” she told KYW Newsradio today.

Allentown church leaders can challenge the decision.

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St. Mary’s hasn’t officially been merged with two others, although all indications are the Diocese of Camden will proceed.  And if they do, Vassallo says, they’ll take that call to Rome as well.

How long could that take? Well, a similar protest in Massachusetts has been going on for six years.  And they, like Allentown, were successful with the Vatican group.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Camden says the merger of St. Mary’s with two other parishes is proceeding on schedule, and the diocese does not expect any problems with the Vatican should protesters file an appeal.

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Reported by David Madden, KYW Newsradio 1060.