On April 17, 2012, Bishop Lennon announced that he would not appeal the decrees from the Congregation for the Clergy regarding appeals by 12 parishes that were merged or closed. Both in the press conference announcing his decision and in his letter to the people of the diocese, Bishop Lennon stated, “it’s time for peace and unity in the diocese of Cleveland.”
One appeal — that of St. Mary, Lorain – was about the name of the parish. The parish Mary Mother of God, was formed by the merger of St. Mary Parish and Holy Trinity Parish, at the site of St. Mary Parish. As a result of their successful appeal, Mary Mother of God Parish will return to the name, St. Mary.
Regarding the other 11 parishes who successfully appealed their closings or mergings, Bishop Lennon’s letter pledged: “I will move forward and carry out the Congregation’s [for the Clergy] directives in an orderly manner.” Presumably, this means that the churches will be re-opened. Many of the people from the various parishes who were involved in or supported the appeal process hoped and wanted their churches opened immediately — by Palm Sunday or Easter.
How and when the churches are opened remains to be seen. As Bishop Lennon stated in an earlier letter (March 27), “this is a very complex matter with no easy or perfect solution.”
- four of the parishes were part of mergers: St. Mary, Akron with St. Bernard, Akron (new name = St. Bernard-St. Mary); St. John the Baptist, Akron with Annunciation (new name = Visitation of Mary); St. Mary, Bedford with St. Pius X and Holy Trinity in Bedford (new name = Our Lady of Hope); St. Patrick, Cleveland with Ascension and Annunciation (new name = Blessed Trinity).
In these cases, the re-opening of the churches will affect the other parishes involved in merging. (Since three of the mergers involved just two parishes, will the “other” parish go back to its former name and identity?) Depending on the size and financial strength of the merged parish, the re-opening of the appeal church might put the viability of the new ”merged” parish at risk. Another concern how many people will stay with the “merged” parish — would the community remain large enough to stay viable? Another consideration is financial – the funds of the appeal parish would be returned to it — would the new ”merged” parish be financially strong enough to remain viable?
- In the case of every appeal parish, it is uncertain how many parishioners (and others) would choose to return/belong to the re-opened church. Would there be a large enough community to re-create a truly viable and vibrant parish?
- The appeal parishes will face various financial conditions and challenges. In every case, the diocese has been using the funds from each parish for necessary security and upkeep (such as keeping a low level of heat on during the winter months), as well as for critical repairs/maintenance. The remaining funds would be returned to each appeal parish as it re-opens. In some cases, the parish had strong savings and will be able to sustain itself for a considerable time. Other parishes were in precarious financial shape before their merging/closing and so the new community may have few funds at the beginning and experience immediate financial struggles. Some of the appeal parishes were indebted when they merged/closed and so would face even greater challenges.
- Staffing is also a serious issue. Several pastors of the appeal parishes retired when the parish closed/merged; they are not available to return. In addition, the other members of the parish staffs have moved on in their lives: some have retired, some have found work in other parishes, some have found jobs in other professions.
As a diocese, we are in uncharted territory; we’ve never had to do this before. For the sake of the people — of the parishes that will be re-opened; of the parishes that were part of a merger with these parishes; of those who are uncertain whether to remain with the new parishes they have made a home in or return to the parish home they left; of those who were alienated at the closing of the churches and are watching to see what will happen now; of the priests, deacons and staffs of the new parishes, the parishes that were closed or merged and (especially) of those who will be called to serve the parishes that are re-opening; of our whole diocesan church – it is so important that we do this wisely and well, that we do it right.
The Scriptures for the Easter season remind us that Jesus is our source of unity and giver of peace:
I have told you this while I am still with you. The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name — he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. (John 14: 25-27)
I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. (John 17: 20-23)
In the days leading up to Pentecost each year, the Church prays “Come, Holy Spirit!” This prayer is especially appropriate for our local church, the Diocese of Cleveland. In the days leading up to Pentecost, on Pentecost and in the days and weeks following Pentecost as the process of planning and re-opening parishes continues, let us pray for the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit and the abundance of the Spirit’s gifts for us all.
In the Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs I: The Church on the Path of Unity, we pray:
Lord, renew your Church which is in Cleveland by the light of the Gospel.
Strengthen the bond of unity between the faithful and the pastors of your people,
together with Benedict our Pope, Richard our Bishop, and the whole Order of Bishops,
that in a world torn by strife your people may shine forth as a prophetic sign of unity and concord.
Let us together continue to pray these words. Amen!