Report: Vatican investigating Cleveland church closings

Report: Vatican investigating Cleveland church closings June 29, 2011

The news comes from the Italian newspaper La Stampa.


The Vatican is investigating Bishop Richard Lennon’s closings of churches in the Cleveland Catholic Diocese, according to a report in an Italian newspaper.

A spokesman for the diocese said Tuesday he would look into the account, but had no immediate comment.

The report Friday in the Italian newspaper La Stampa by veteran Vatican journalist Marco Tosatti, said the Vatican has decided to send “an apostolic visit, or rather, an investigation” to look into Lennon’s decisions on the closings.

Lennon, citing changes in Catholic demographics, a shortage of priests and dwindling Sunday cash collections, ordered the shuttering of 50 parishes, beginning in August 2009 and ending in June 2010.

Going from church to church each Sunday to say final Masses, Lennon, escorted by armed body guards, became a target for protestors and the subject of angry letters to Rome.

More than a dozen Cleveland-area churches appealed their closings to the Holy See and are still waiting for decisions from a Vatican panel called the Congregation for the Clergy.

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8 responses to “Report: Vatican investigating Cleveland church closings”

  1. This is the bishop was brought into replace the disgraced Cardinal Law. He stars in a not to flattering movie called, “Hand of God”, which aired on PBS’s Frontline.

    Catholics in Cleveland must really love him.

    “Nicknamed “The Boston Strangler” by detractors, he usually arrived at a final Mass chauffeured in a staff-driven car and escorted by uniformed and plainclothes police.”

    “At St. Casimir’s in Cleveland, hecklers shouted “Judas!” and worshipers interrupted the service, singing hymns in Polish. A man in his 90s pulled the plug on the bishop’s microphone.”

    At Sacred Heart of Jesus Hungarian Catholic Church in Akron, he found himself engulfed by shouts of anger and ridicule. The turmoil inside the church was videotaped and posted on YouTube.

    “Do you really believe I like doing this?” Lennon asks in the video. The crowd responds, “Yes!”

    “What joy does it bring me?” he asks. The crowd shouts, “Money!”

    “Please,” Lennon says. “I don’t get anything.”

    The bishop continues: “I certainly understand people who are very sad and people who are very angry. I am not without sensitivity.” The crowd laughs, prompting Lennon to hold up his hands and say: “You may laugh as you wish.

    “I did something that none of you have done,” he continues. “I closed my own parish. Because as a man of God I believe it was the right thing to do for the mission that Jesus Christ has given us.”

  2. Closing of parishes in the U.S. is inevitable, an aging population, shortage of priests, dwindling contributions and the weight of payments on abuse lawsuits in the billions, have put the American Church in the brink.

    The only reason the American Church has not hemorrhaged like the mainline protestant denominations is the influx of Hispanics. But historically Catholics contribute much less to their Church than any other Christian group.

  3. Long before I became a deacon, and during the middle of the “crazy-days” right after Vatican II, I lived in Cleveland for a few years. Some observations which MAY help make sense out of all this.

    –Cleveland’s version of American Catholicism, both Byzantine and Roman, was not so much a melting pot as a “mulligan stew.” EVERY parish was a “nationality” one and each had its own sub-culture with extremely loyal parishioners. National origins and the cultural contexts they suggest were extremely important — so important, in fact, that it was a rare parish that reached outside of itself for anything.

    –As a result, the parishioner’s ideas about Church in general were always rooted in that tight-knit experience. One simply understood that whatever focus their parish had, reflected the universal — never-changing — focus of the Church at large.

    Thus after Vatican II, the crazy-years hit Cleveland very hard. Rectories became divided; old pastor against younger associate. Parishes became intensely polarized. The bishop at that time had to constantly put out “brush-fires” — each half accusing the other half of disloyalty and even heresy. Pastoral ambushes became common and each side insisted they were the most loyal. My very first experience with “uber-conservative: sede-vacante” folks came out of that era.

    Then, in 1968, the Great Exodus occurred. It hit Cleveland harder than most places and some religious communities lost over 50% of their members. The already confused and upset laity were lost in the chaos and retrenched back to their nationality values. Parishes became beacons of stability.

    It is now almost fifty years after that whole scene. Parish loyalty is still equated with absolute loyalty to God — The God of our Fathers. Bishops can come and go and the demographics of social movements are nothing but statistics but Saint (choose your name here) Parish is eternal.

  4. He did close his own parish–in Greater Boston; it was the one founded by his family. It was also mine, for 45 years.
    I can’t say I was pleased with his demeanor during the meeting he had with parish to “explain” the decision–cold and arrogant come to mind; I will choose to think he was masking his own distress.

    It is really true however, that many, many Catholics in the position of having their home churches close do regard the parish as their whole world–not the universal church, but just their parish, their congregational experience. (And it doesn’t have to just be the ethnic parishes). I recognize that parish closures were inevitable in the Archdiocese of Boston (one example: we had 7 churches in a 5-mile radius; 4 have closed), but it is a very unpleasant experience. Of course, it was not improved by occurring at the height of the scandal in Boston, and the perception (truth?) that our parishes’ real estate was paying for legal settlements.

    I feel for all sides; it’s just a lousy experience. And despite the fact my family participates at a new parish, and that the old parish became a Greek Orthodox one (and thus, still accessible, sort of), it still doesn’t feel the same.

  5. It’s notable that many people who do not go to mass on Sundays, do not know their doctrine, do not “share” the Church’s values against abortion or gay marriage for example, and who are all but lukewarm about their religion, turn into zealots when a broke parish needs to be closed.

  6. I agree with Rudy’s comment. I am a member of the last parish merged by Bishop Lennon (we will celebrate our one-year anniversary on July 4). None of us enjoyed the closures, but it was something that needed done, and it had been avoided by our previous bishop.

    Over the last 30+ years, we in the Midwest experienced a great drop in population and vocations. There simply aren’t enough priests to go around, and Bishop Lennon must use those who remain judiciously and send them where they are most needed.

    Responsibility for this problem also lies with the laity, to be completely honest. We did not support our inner-city, ethnic parishes with our presence and with a reasonable, steady offertory collection, and we neglected to encourage and foster vocations among our children. It is painful, but it is the truth.

    As a member of my former parish’s council, I had occasion to meet and speak to His Excellency on more than one occasion. I was deeply impressed by his dignity and the care he feels for those of us for whom he is spiritually responsible. He has not been treated with the respect and decency he deserves by the local press and by his own people, I am ashamed to say.

    Personally, I will be forever grateful to him for my beautiful new parish and my exceptionally faithful pastor, and I am very grateful for my good Bishop Lennon.

    Susan from Akron

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