Bishop might appeal Vatican’s reversal of parish closings

Catholic News Service

Bishop Richard G. Lennon of Cleveland said he has not decided whether to appeal a series of Vatican decrees that reversed the closings of 13 parishes.

In a letter sent March 27 to be distributed at Masses the weekend of March 31-April 1, Bishop Lennon said he was continuing to study the decrees from the Congregation for Clergy in a effort to “fully understand” them.

The letter was made public on the diocesan website March 28, two weeks after Bishop Lennon was informed of the congregation’s actions.

“As I hope you can appreciate, this is a very complex matter with no easy or perfect solution,” Bishop Lennon wrote. “With the help of a number of advisers, including members of the clergy, laity and experts in church law, I am carefully studying and seeking to fully understand the decrees. I can assure you that this is not nearly as clear-cut as it may appear on the surface. Although the decrees are brief in length, they are deep in underlying meaning and I continue to receive significant input and clarification.”

The bishop promised to explain his rationale for the decision he finally reaches.

“Be assured that I will act fully in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church and with the utmost respect for its governance and authority. I pray that God will guide me and I ask for your prayers,” he said.

Parishioners who had hoped their churches would reopen in time for Easter, April 8, expressed disappointment that the bishop has not yet acted in accordance with the decrees.

In response to the bishop’s letter, the canon lawyer working with three of the parishes filed motions with the congregation requesting that church officials order the immediate restoration of their parishes and the reopening of their churches.

“Again we’ll be shuttered out of our churches in the holiest time of the year,” said Patricia Schulte-Singleton, president of St. Patrick Church parish council when the west side Cleveland parish closed who formed the Save St. Pat’s Committee.

“The saga continues. I know at St. Pat’s we have our advocate in Rome who will be ready to make any motions and do whatever is necessary to protect the right of St. Pat’s parishioners,” she said.

Attorney Christine LaSalvia, a member of St. James Parish in Lakewood, Ohio, told Catholic News Service March 29 that she and her fellow parishioners were ready to begin rebuilding the parish in the west side suburb.

“Obviously we’re going to have to do some work to get it back to where it was and we want to get going on that,” LaSalvia said.

“We have a very active group at St. James. There’s a lot of people who’ve been involved and kept the hope alive the last three years. We do have a lot of people ready to go and volunteer and do what needs to be done to rebuild the parish,” she added.

The decrees from the Congregation for Clergy said the closings were not carried out according to canon law and instructed Bishop Lennon to restore the churches for worship.

Bishop Lennon has until mid-May to appeal the congregation’s decisions to the Apostolic Signature, the Vatican’s highest court. He can also file a motion with the congregation for reconsideration.

The congregation’s rulings stem from appeals by parishioners who were assisted by canon lawyers. The decrees reversed the closings undertaken in 2009 under a diocesan-wide reconfiguration plan that saw 27 parishes closed and another 41 merged to form 18 new parishes.