-- Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley made an emotional appeal Saturday to Catholics who oppose the downsizing of local parishes, saying the cuts are so painful that he sometimes asks God to "call me home and let someone else finish this job."

In a letter directed at protesters, O'Malley said the church's financial status is "much worse than people realize" and that a plan to close or consolidate 83 of the 357 parishes is for the good of the archdiocese. Parishioners from at least seven churches that have been shut down have refused to leave the buildings in protest of the archdiocese's downsizing plan.

"Closing parishes is the hardest thing I have ever had to do in 40 years of religious life," O'Malley wrote. "At times I ask God to call me home and let someone else finish this job, but I keep waking up in the morning to face another day of reconfiguration."

O'Malley said the restructuring was prompted by factors including the clergy sex abuse scandal, which has cost the archdiocese about $90 million in lawsuit settlements, declining attendance and fewer priests.

But even as the three-page letter was released Saturday, groups supporting the vigils at closed parishes met in Worcester, Mass., to strengthen their resolve.

They say the closings have not been adequately explained and that healthy churches are being closed for no good reason.

Peter Borre, a lead organizer of the vigils, said that although some downsizing is needed, the process of choosing which parishes to close has lacked transparency.

"This way of going forward with reconfiguration is severely flawed and has to stop," he said.