Following a ruling from the Vatican, Bishop Richard G. Lennon of Cleveland has announced he will reopen 12 parishes closed in 2009 and 2010, a move he says will stretch the diocese’s resources.
“I now say, it’s time for peace and unity in the Diocese of Cleveland. More than ever, this is a time for all Catholics to come together with God’s help and strive to strengthen our diocesan church’s serving the pastoral and spiritual needs of all the faithful,” Bishop Lennon said at an April 17 news conference at Cleveland’s Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.
The bishop said he will not appeal the rulings from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy that reversed his decisions to close the parishes.
“Doing so would prolong the process a number of years and would create more uncertainty and continue to divide our Catholic family,” he said. “We will work with the priests and parishioners as they re-establish their parishes.”
Major decisions on staffing and other matters have not yet been made.
“Our present situation is a very complex matter with no easy or perfect solution,” the bishop said.
He said he has worked with a number of advisors and diocesan councils to understand the Vatican ruling and to decide on future actions.
The decision to close the parishes came as part of a comprehensive reconfiguration plan announced in March 2009. The plan intended to address population shifts, financial hardship for many parishes, and fewer priests.
Closings and mergers resulted in 50 fewer parishes in the diocese. Some parishioners exercised their rights under canon law and appealed the bishop’s decision to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy.
“With fewer active priests available to serve the entire eight-county Diocese, we will be forced to spread our clerical resources thinner,” he said.
The reopened parishes must continually demonstrate that they have the active membership and the financial resources to sustain themselves, the bishop said.
The diocesan reconfiguration process dates back to 2001 when then-Bishop Anthony M. Pilla introduced the Vibrant Parish Life Initiative to address future challenges in the diocese. In May 2007, Bishop Lennon directed 69 parish clusters to consider how to share resources and propose how to reduce the number of parishes. The decision to close the parishes came after an “extensive” review process involving parish representatives and others, the diocese said.
In July 2011, Bishop Lennon announced that he had asked the Vatican to investigate his decision to close the parishes because “a number of persons have written to Rome expressing their concerns about my leadership of the diocese.”
In response, the Vatican sent emeritus Bishop John M. Smith of Trenton, N.J. to investigate and report.
In his April 17 statement, Bishop Lennon stressed the need for peace.
“During these Easter days, I often think of Jesus’ first words as he appeared to the Apostles after rising from the dead: ‘Peace be with you’,” he said.
There are 710,000 Catholics in the 174 parishes of the Diocese of Cleveland.