Saved: Vatican reverses Cleveland decision on closing of 13 parishes

It’s a rare reversal — and one that should give other parishes around the country cause for hope.

Details:

In an extraordinary move, the Vatican has reversed Bishop Richard Lennon’s closings of 13 churches in the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, saying the parishes must be restored and the sanctuaries reopened for worship, according to activists who fought the closings.

The diocese could appeal the reversals.

The 13 parishes had filed appeals with the Vatican after Lennon, between 2009 and 2010, closed 50 churches in the eight-county diocese, citing changes in demographics and shortages of priests and cash.

Since the closings, parishioners have been swamping Rome with flurries of letters, arguing that their parishes were vibrant communities wrongfully snuffed out by the diocese.

Some parishes like St. Patrick in Cleveland’s West Park neighborhood hired Boston activist Peter Borre and canon lawyers in Rome to argue on their behalf.

Borre, who regularly traveled to Rome representing Cleveland parishes, said Wednesday that the reversals of Lennon’s closings are “unprecedented for Catholic America.”

Borre said the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, the panel that handled the appeals, ruled in favor of the parishioners regarding both closing procedures and canon law.

“This is very significant because it means that Lennon erred procedurally and substantively,” Borre said in an email to The Plain Dealer. “If he had been reversed only procedurally, he could re-boot, start the procedure again and fix the procedural error.

“But he cannot fix a substantive error [regarding canon law].”

Borre said Lennon can either comply with the Vatican’s decrees or, within 60 days, appeal to the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s supreme court.

The bishop could also stall, saying he doesn’t have enough priests or money to reconstitute the parishes, said Borre.

Read more.

  • naturgesetz

    I hope we will be able to learn what those procedural and substantive grounds for reversing the decisions are. Until then, we’re really in the dark about this.

    But maybe — and this is just speculation — something similar to what happened in Boston happened here. When we were closing parishes, it was because parishes were non-viable and redundant. However, in order to avoid the appearance of abandoning the inner cities, non-viable parishes in the cities were kept open, while viable parishes in the suburbs were closed.

  • http://www.canonlaw.info Ed Peters

    Without the text of decision, what this really means is impossible to know.

  • pagansister

    I’m happy for the members of those churches!

  • Dan S.

    In general, I do not really like the idea of Rome getting so involved in local matters like these. If anything, a more regional Synod, or the Metropolitan Bishop should be the one making the call here.

  • Susan

    There is another side to this story. My parish is one of the parishes that was merged when my former parish and another parish were put together after the other parish was closed.

    We have been merged since July, 2010, and ours was a fairly congenial merger. In that time, we have grown to love our new parish and our outstanding pastor. From what I gather, the people who petitioned the Vatican in this instance were attendees of the weekly Latin Mass, which is a tiny percentage of the congregation, and who are now accommodated at another parish.

    This “divorce” of my beloved parish will reopen old, healed wounds. Even if the parish reopening regains their old pastor, it will not be the same parish. Parishioners have moved on and reestablished roots at my present parish or elsewhere, and have been baptized, confirmed, married and buried here. We made our new parish our own, and we love it, our fellow parishioners, and our pastor. We are only a mile away from the parish that is to reopen, and it is hard to see how our area of town can support both parishes.

    Anyway, I wanted to present another viewpoint. I do understand the happiness some feel at this news, but some of us are heartbroken, and some of us respect and love our Bishop, who I am convinced did none of this out of malice. Several of us (from both former parishes) are participating in a rosary novena, praying for Bishop Lennon, our good pastor, and our beloved parish. Please pray for us all.

    Susan from Akron

  • deacon john m. bresnahan

    I think one problem leading to the closing of parishes is the post Vatican II constant moving around of priests–even pastors can’t settle down to become permanent fatherly presences in the parish ready to die there with their boots on so to speakl..
    So when parishioners, who are stable generation after generation members of a parish community, revolt when their community is virtually under assault a lot of the “traveling” clergy can’t comprehend laypersons powerful atrtachment to the local parish community. They are, in a sense, rootless.

  • Deacon Norb

    John:

    It’s called the “Law of Unintended Consequences.”

    Yes, there is still a provision in Canon Law which allows for “Irremoveable Rectors” — Catholic priest/pastors that have life-time appointments. At least one diocese here in the Midwest used this process up until about 2000.

    One story that comes out of this unique way of appointing pastors was a case of a “cold-prickly” — but still fairly young — priest that the local bishop had no idea what to do with. He did not get along with other priests in the parishes he was assigned as an assistant but he was old enough where a pastorate — especially if he was by himself — might be appropriate. It also turned out that this priest was from a wealthy family — so a deal was cut. The priest got his first pastorate in a newly created parish that was sorely needed in a rapidly growing “bedroom” community within driving distance to several large industrial complexes. The family donated a seven figure amount ON THE CONDITION that their son was made “Irremoveable Rector.” The bishop agreed and the deal was cut. That was in 1957.

    That pastorate lasted over 35 years and during that time the newly formed parish survived because the hard-work of a lot of laity who were energized by the “fresh-start” features so characteristic of a new parish with a lot of young families.

    It did not thrive, however, until that “cold-prickly” pastor was called to eternal life by the Risen Lord Jesus in 1983. From that point onward, that parish exploded in numbers and in physical plant. It now sits as one of the “mega-churches” of that diocese with over 10k in “head-count.”

    Knowing that parish like I do, I have always believed that there was a “cause-and-effect” at work here and that “Irremoveable Rectors” are NOT a good idea.

  • Fiergenholt

    Deacon John:

    I know you are from suburban Boston so let me ask this question: wasn’t the custom of the Archdiocese of Boston NOT to move their priest/pastors an underlying and supporting characteristic of the whole pedophile scandal of 12 years ago? Correct me if I’m wrong but I always though that the worst renegade of the lot — John Geoghan — was one of those permanently placed pastors.

  • Catherine

    I’m from NY, not Boston, but I just checked Wikipedia (yes, I know), and it looks as if Geoghan was moved around quite a bit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Geoghan.

    Based on the way our parish was treated by Cardinal Egan (short version: like bad children), and what I’ve been reading about the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s attempt to close the beloved Monsignor Bonner/Archbishop Prendergast High School, I have to say that I’d like to see more appeals to Rome by aggrieved lay people. Too many of the bishops and their officials behave in a way that makes the lay people feel powerless when the survival of their schools and parishes are at stake.

  • Fiergenholt

    Thanks for the correction. That’s why I posted my query.

  • Jeff P.

    I hope the Vatican and the new committee for Sacred Architecture intervenes in the Archdiocese of Detroit. There are plans to merge and close several beautiful and inspirational buildings, while sparing many plain, bland, multi-purpose “worship spaces” in the same areas.

  • RomCath

    It may be nice of the Vatican to reverse the decision to close parishes. However does the Vatican know who will staff them and pay their bills in the future?

  • Deacon Norb

    Jeff:

    I do not minister in the Detroit Archdiocese but I have family who are members of parishes there. IMHO this mess up there is best explained by good old fashioned “supply and demand.” There simply are too many churches for the “market” of Roman Catholics (both clergy and lay) to support.

    Several months back, the regulars on this BLOG kicked around the whole demographics that happens when the second and third generations of the Ellis Island immigrants move out to the suburbs and their parents eventually die off.

    Detroit just got hit far more brutally than most cities — although this fracas in Cleveland is ugly enough. Cleveland lost inner-city Catholics — a lot of cities can say that — but Detroit lost inner-city everyone!

    The Vatican’s Sacred Architecture committee will have zero impact on any of this. Let me say it again — that committee will NOT save your favorite inner-city parish. That is not what its mandates are.

  • Fiergenholt

    RomCath

    Please read the various news reports. The Vatican did NOT state that Bishop Lennon had no right to close parishes but that there is sufficient evidence to confirm that in the case of these specific 13 he did not follows the approved process.

    That’s a nice public relations compromise — and it creates a very attractive media “sound bite” about how uncaring Catholic Bishops really are — but it will have no long-term impact.

    Trust me. Within five years those 13 will be closed permanently for the very reason you mention (staffing and economics) and the very reason suggested by Deacon Norb above (demographics).

  • Rebecca

    Thank you Susan! I too am from the Cleveland diocese, and I am saddened by this decision. I remember reading that one of the people who led the charge against closing the parishes lived in one of the wealthier suburbs nearby where I live, in a place that was not affected by any of the mergings. I think that some people who fought Bishop Lennon over this issue were not members of the parishes, but rather Catholics or ex-Catholics with an axe to grind.

    When I saw the headline that the parishes would be reopened, I thought, “Great, they reopened the parishes so all the people who protested for them can NOT attend Mass there.”

  • Rebecca

    Exactly. The parish lines were drawn up back in the days when Cleveland was the 5th largest city in the country. Those days are gone, and unless the steel industry in China collapses and everyone starts buying Cleveland steel again, they’re probably gone for good.


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