In March of 2010, I wrote an editorial titled ”Who Is Destroying Cleveland’s Catholic Churches?” about the closings of many Cleveland Catholic churches at the hand of the head of the diocese, Bishop Richard Lennon. In that editorial, I stated that Lennon “completely botched the execution of his church consolidation plan” and spoke of the ensuing protests from Clevelanders who were affected by the subsequent church closings. I also wrote that “Local Catholics have protested in many ways, some making very vocal protests at church closings and also picketing churches. A group was formed called Endangered Catholics whose intent is to get justice and equal opportunity for parishioners. Protests are also working their way up to the Vatican. Sadly, I suspect that these protests will fall on deaf ears for the most part…”
I am pleased to say that as far as my latter statement, I was completely wrong. In a shocking move – shocking because the powers that be at the Catholic Church never seem to listen to the “little people” (the church parishioners in this case) – the Vatican reversed the Bishop’s ruling on the 13 churches that appealed the process.
This is huge news in Cleveland for many reasons. Those that appealed feel like they won a big battle with the Church, a victory that has been described using words like “extraordinary,” “unprecedented,” and “unheard of.”
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that Boston activist Peter Borre who was working o the appeal, said "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]." My translation – Bishop Lennon really botched it, and in a big way.
But while the affected parishioners have won this battle, the war still continues. Bishop Lennon can still appeal the appeal. The churches who have appealed were already closed by the diocese, and many objects have already been removed from the churches and either moved to other parishes within the diocese or worse yet, sold to churches far outside the Cleveland area. (In the case of my mother’s church, the church organ was removed within days of the church closing and moved to a neighboring parish that remained open, despite the fact that her parish was appealing to the Vatican). As the Cleveland Diocese has not put money into these closed churches, some are falling into disrepair. Some parishioners have moved on in various ways, such as finding other churches (even moving to other Christian faiths) or leaving the church altogether. So, while the battle was won, the war within the Cleveland Catholic Diocese still continues, and may not necessarily end in victory for the individual parishes.
St. Casimir's, Cleveland Ohio (Now closed)
But there were important lessons learned here. For church parishioners: you don’t have to take every non-dogmatic ruling by your church or diocese as “gospel.” The men that run the church (and make no mistake, the Catholic Church is a man’s world) are just that – people, and they can make mistakes. They can also be so focused on making money that they forget that it’s the people of the parishes who keep them in business (so to speak) and provide the money they need to keep functioning. The Catholic Church may have learned that their members don’t see Church leadership as being infallible when it comes to the management of a parish or diocese. We live in a day and age where parishioners have many tools available for them to mobilize and to affect changes, and the Church really needs to get with the times and begin to listen to their members.
So while I am somewhat gleeful at this local victory, I still hope for the day where real change can take place in the Catholic Church, changes that show respect to women and a woman’s ability to contribute. But I’m not holding my breath.
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