Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Cleveland’s Bishop Lennon Excommunicates a Good Priest

First and foremost, let me state that I am a lapsed Catholic. But that’s never stopped me from commenting on The Church’s actions.

The latest idiocy: The head of the Cleveland Catholic Diocese, Bishop Richard Lennon, just this week excommunicated Father Robert Marrone, a priest who has a long standing excellent reputation with many in the diocese.

What was Father Marrone’s infraction, you wonder? No, it wasn’t that he was some sort of sexual deviant – The Church usually lets those guys run amok for decades. No, Father Marrone did an unforgivable thing in the eyes of Bishop Lennon – he set up shop in a new building after Lennon closed Marrone’s church. And after the Vatican overturned Lennon’s many church closings in the Cleveland area – a rare action by the Vatican to say the least – Lennon and Marrone have yet to mend their fences.

It’s interesting to note that Bishop Lennon waited to make this announcement during the time when there is no Pope.

Let’s backtrack for some history on this matter. A few years ago, Bishop Lennon was hell bent on closing churches in the Cleveland diocese, citing financial issues and lack of priests. To help the process, Lennon created small “clusters” of parishes and asked them to decide which church in each cluster should close. After the church clusters decided and made their recommendations to Lennon, Lennon did what he wanted to do anyway, and in 2009 he began closing 50 churches, more than originally planned, and with a total disregard for the recommendations of the church clusters. This also included churches that were financially stable. 

At least 13 of the parishes targeted for closure appealed The Vatican, in a long, drawn out process. During this appeals process, Lennon continued to close the churches, including those that had appealed.

Meanwhile, Marrone - his parish closed - sets up shop a non-Catholic building, and continues to celebrate Mass. Lennon tried previously to convince Cleveland Catholics that the churches he closed were only buildings, yet Lennon publicly expressed his displeasure with Marrone setting up a church in a non-churchlike building. (I guess a church really IS about the building?)

The Vatican then makes a rare move and reverses Lennon’s decision on 12 of the 13 appeals, ruling that Lennon did not follow Church laws in the closings. (Details of specifically which rules were not followed were not made public, but I wonder if Lennon going against the decisions of the church clusters in rules that he himself established wasn’t a big part of the issue.) The 12 churches were ordered to re-open,  unless Lennon files an appeal of his own (he doesn’t).

Eventually, St. Peter’s Church is re-opened by the Cleveland diocese, but without rebel Father Marrone as he and Lennon fail to reconcile. Marrone now finds himself being excommunicated. 

To summarize:
Father Marrone was excommunicated over actions that began with Bishop Richard Lennon closing churches (along with Marrone’s parish St. Peter’s), an action that was later deemed illegal by The Vatican. Had Lennon not performed this illegal action, Marrone would likely have not rebelled, and subsequently there would be no grounds to excommunicate him. 

The Cleveland Catholic Diocese has been a holy mess since Bishop Richard Lennon arrived. His illegal closings of churches had already created irreparable damage with Catholics in the diocese. Now his need to show others that he wears the pants (well, it’s more like flowing robes) in the diocese by not being able to mend fences with Father Marrone makes Lennon look like he’s got an ego too big for his britches (or robes). Granted, Father Marrone may be just as stubborn and bullheaded as Lennon; it’s serious business to set up your own church even after your boss has told you that you can’t do it. But the fact remains – Lennon acted illegally in the eyes of the Vatican, which triggered Marrone’s actions. It’s pathetic that the Church has a history of burying the actions of sex offenders within its ranks, yet a priest defies an illegal order to close his parish and he’s the one to suffer quick and religiously fatal retribution? Something is not right here.

I won’t bore you with my long standing opinion of the disregard the Catholic Church has for women, but I will say that this is one organization that needs an overhaul in more ways than one. While the Cardinals are off electing a new Pope, here’s hoping that sometime soon they will also make some changes in the hierarchy of the Cleveland Catholic Diocese.

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