Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has denied the appeals of five Catholic parishes fighting to stay open.
That response leaves Catholics angered by parish mergers with one more option: Sending an appeal to Rome.
At least two parishes are planning to pursue that option, and have hired consultants and attorneys familiar with church law.
"We're prepared to do whatever it takes," said Ralph DiGuiseppe, a parishioner of the former St. Ann parish in Bristol Borough, Bucks County.
St. Ann, a church built by Italian immigrants, merged July 1 with St. Mark Parish in Bristol. It was one of 16 parishes that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia closed this month and merged into 13 other nearby parishes.
Parishioners at five of those parishes began the formal appeal process.
Letters denying all five appeals were mailed early last week, said Kenneth A. Gavin, a spokesman for the archdiocese.
"After review of those appeals, the archbishop did not see evidence that would warrant the initial decisions to be reversed," Gavin wrote in an email.
In addition to St. Ann, the appealing parishes were Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Bridgeport, St. John of the Cross in Roslyn, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Bensalem, and Notre Dame de Lourdes in Swarthmore.
Hearing this week that Chaput denied his parish's appeal was "disappointing, but expected," said Tom Donahue of the former Notre Dame de Lourdes parish. Notre Dame is also preparing an appeal to the Vatican, arguing that the Delaware County parish was a vibrant and financially stable community.
Once in Rome, the appeals still face tough odds. Since the Archdiocese of Philadelphia began reviewing and merging parishes in 2010, no decision has been overturned on appeal.
Catholic parishes across the country have closed in recent years, as the church faces changing demographics, troubled finances and a shortage of priests. Only a handful of appeals to Rome by U.S. parishes have been successful.