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Vatican reverses Cleveland church closings

Back in July, Cleveland's Bishop Richard Lennon welcomed a Vatican inquiry into his decision to close parishes, and interpreted it as a review of his leadership of the diocese. "This visit will be an opportunity to gather extensive information on all aspects of the activities of the Diocese and will allow for an objective assessment of my leadership," he said.The result is a startling decision [PDF from Cleveland Plain-Dealer] to reverse Bishop Lennon's closure of 13 parishes. As the FutureChurch organization put it, "This is a landmark decision. For the first time the Vatican has powerfully upheld the rights of Catholics to have an appropriate voice in determining the future of their parish by overruling a diocesan bishop's decision to suppress 13 parishes."What will happen next? That depends on whether the bishop will accept this "objective assessment" - or appeal.

About the Author

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015).



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In our diocese a parish received some type of such decision and the diocese contests it as "open for funerals-maybe" and nothing has happened or is happening. There was a great outdoor liturgy on its steps just before Christmas and...the diocese continues to stonewall inquiries.While I am delighted with this decision, the outcome is still in the bishop's hands. Where is he going to find clergy to staff these parishes? And, if he does, will he send someone so unacceptable as to make them shells of the past or increase flight? And what will the Vatican do..It is the life of the faithful that is still squeezed and whatever lay leadership is yet there can be easily undermined. Perhaps this is a"victory," but it hardly addresses the role of the laity in THEIR parishes just because "papa in the Vatican" said that the diocese must do... something.

This is *really* interesting. Good for those parishioners for following the process. Lesson learned: in a church tussle, hire a good canon lawyer.It appears that Bishop Lennon was overruled because he failed to follow the correct process. Istm that he could redo the exercise, this time remembering to consult his presbyteral council and to publish a decree, and shut down the parishes again.I wonder if any legal-adviser heads are rolling in the chancery.

Jim, it could be the case that Lennon ignored the counsel of those legal advisers who advised him to follow the process more closely. Or at least, in my experience, that is very often the answer when you wonder what someone was thinking in a case like this.

Regarding David Pasinski's comment about finding priests to staff the parishes; is there anything similar to the Glenmary Home Missions for urban areas? I only know the little I've read about them,but the mission churches seem to have a very involved laity, I wonder if that could be replicable with larger congregations.

What we need is less canon law and more common sense.

So wait, I'm confused. Since "the Vatican" is ALWAYS the bad guy, ALWAYS in the wrong, is this development a good thing or a bad thing?

Although I ususally disagree with Bender, I think this is an intersting point. The "appeal" to the Vatican recognizes something, but it is unclear how to read it. If it had said "no" -- as is the usual case -- would we indeed be lamenting this as "business as usual" with Vatican bureaucracies? I think there is a sense of trying to beat the diocese by doing better in acanon law fight, but is that the approach that most really want?

It's positive for everyone but the bishop, who has egg all over his cassock. Or so it seems.I was recently in a lovely little Cleveland church that, as I recall, was slated to be closed. Polish parish, perhaps. St. Barbara? The way the Church is losing members, small church buildings should probably remain open, and the big barns should close. Intimacy has a lot to recommend it for nurturing community. Consolidation just saves money.

"What we need is less canon law and more common sense."Bob - these parishes were closed in a way that flouted canon law; that they are now open again is because canon law was enforced. I'd say what we need is just canon law, justly applied.

Bender lamented: "Since the Vatican is ALWAYS the bad guy, ALWAYS in the wrong, is this development a good thing or a bad thing?"Read your history, my friend. This is not a development so much as a time-dishonored way of operation for The Vatican.

Finding priests is not a problem. All one has to do is ignore disciplines such as celibacy and males-only, and this church would be overwhelmed with candidates and returnees.There is no priest shortage problem. There is a problem of a failure of leadership, innovation and spinal columns among the bishops.

Canon law: law written by, approved by, enforced by and existing for the overwhelming benefit of (ta dum ....) the clergy.

Right,Jimmy Mac.Canon Law places decsion making in the hands of clergy only.If one banm find flawed technicalities or overstepping of bounds, it doesn't mean that a decsion properly handled(by clergy) can't be reinstated.Boston is watching as reorganization comes with its putative "collaboration."BTW, Jimmy mac, I didn't think that spines were what bishops lacked, but I guess Ijust get more and more cyncial as I watch them and their supporters.

Cleveland's Bp. Lennon was Apostolic Administrator in Boston in 2003 after the abrupt departure of Law. Jason Berry's book "Render unto Rome, The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church" (2011) describes in detail the parish-closing work of Lennon leading up to such events as years-long vigils and him saying final Masses under police escort at parishes he had suppressed. The viciousness and venal hostility toward faithful Boston Catholics for which Lennon was directly responsible is recorded by Berry in disgraceful detail. On arriving in the troubled Ohio diocese, "Lennon approached Cleveland like a banker redlining loans in poor neighborhoods." (p. 264). The suggestion that Lennon made some technical errors in process woefully under-represents what he has done to Catholics there. And the Law in question may be not only the Canon one but also the Bernard one, still. (p. 347 re Nuncio Sambi). An honest report on Lennon from the Vatican inquiry would make interesting reading after Berry's book.

Interesting development in light of NCROnline's current article about one of the Catholic communities affected by Lennon's behavior:See

What is most surprising to me is that the Vatican handled this in such a way that inevitably the bishop was bound to be highly embarrassed publicly by the report. Bishop - 0, Parishes 13! No old boys club protecting one of their own this time. I wonder how many of those reports of deep divisions in the Curia which have been surfacing recently are true. Looks like there might even have been some basic sort of Curial change. Is that too much to hope?

Ann O. -- My recollection is that events around Cleveland were more complicated than the above suggests. Lennon's welcoming of the Vatican visitor was sort like you inviting the sun to rise tomorrow and welcoming it. I apologize for not noticing earlier Paul Moses's link to his previous post and the article link, which pertain. IN March 2009, Lennon had announced his plan, starting: "The Church is about people and their faith, not about buildings " People of St. Peters's parish took him at his word, gave him his building to sell, and went off to find their own. Their story is at It is unclear to me whether the parish announcements close out the matter or whether the Vatican visitor's report is yet to come.

Lennon's March 2009 plan for closing parishes and achieving vibrancy:

Again, retired bishop, "Mort", has yet to announce his findings on the parish closures and process. There appears to be two divided opinions on his appointment - 1) it was asked for by Lennon; 2) he was directed to do this via Rome because at that time there was no papal Nuncio.It will be very interesting to see how and if Vigano acts on "Mort's" findings or if the findings are translated into Vaticanese - thus, saving face.Was involved in one church ownership issue in New Orleans - the issue was between a religious order and the local archbishop. The appropriate Roman dicastery found in favor for the religious order but, given the customary process, Rome announces this in the same way US civil courts use "nolo contendere" - they merely make a statement that the archbishop's decision is not supported by Rome. Nothing more and nothing less. And in fact nothing changed.Would suggest that this is also the way things will go in Cleveland.It is surprising that this decision was made given the "reported" continued influence of Law - but, he has retired now although he continues on many committees. Some have felt that B16 has now realized that Law is a liability and has not been good for the church.

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