CLEVELAND — A Vatican congregation has overturned the closing of 13 parishes in the Diocese of Cleveland and said the churches must be restored for worship, a person involved with the cases said.
The ruling reverses some of the closings ordered by Bishop Richard G. Lennon since 2009 under a diocesan-wide reconfiguration plan.
The Congregation for Clergy’s ruling in support of parishioners who appealed the closings is a rare instance, explained Peter Borre, a leader with the Council of Parishes in Boston, who has been advising parish groups nationwide on their appeals.
Bishop Lennon has 60 days to appeal the congregation’s decisions to the Apostolic Signature, the Vatican’s highest court, once he receives the decrees. He can also file a motion with the Congregation for Clergy for reconsideration.
Decrees released by parishioners of two parishes March 8 cited Canons 515 and 1222 and the procedural and substantive steps that were not followed under them.
Both canons require a bishop to consult with his diocesan council of priests prior to taking any action to suppress a parish or close a church building. The congregation ruled that Bishop Lennon did not adhere to those requirements.
“It is evident, therefore, that the requirements of law for the licit and valid relegation of a church to secular but not unbecoming use have not been met, and that St. Patrick Church (one of the parishes in the decision) has not been lawfully and validly relegated to secular but not unbecoming use,” said the decree for one of the parishes in Cleveland.
Borre said other decrees that were read to him by people familiar with the case included the same language.
“The Diocese of Cleveland is awaiting official word from the Vatican concerning any decrees,” Robert Tayek, director of media and public relations, said March 8, reading from a prepared statement. “We first must see the official documents in order to review them and understand what exactly is being said; only then can a response be determined.”
The Vatican’s decision was met with jubilation, prayers of thanksgiving and song as parishioners gathered to celebrate outside of several of the closed churches in the hours after they learned of the rulings March 7.
“We’re as stunned as anybody,” said Bob Kloos, a leader in the group Endangered Catholics and a member of the Community of St. Peter, which was formed by parishioners of the closed St. Peter Church who created a nonprofit corporation to stay together as a Catholic worship community and continue various ministries in Cleveland’s inner city.
Fr. Robert Marrone joined the effort and continues as the community’s pastor despite a warning of excommunication from Bishop Lennon.
“We are overjoyed,” Kloos said. “We are looking forward to working collaboratively and in mutual respect with the bishop to reopen these parishes.”
He said that he hopes the ruling will help lift “the pall that’s been afflicting the diocese” since the closings were announced.
Patricia Schulte-Singleton was president of the St. Patrick Church parish council when the parish closed and formed the Save St. Pat’s Committee. She pledged to offer her services to Bishop Lennon and the diocese to help reopen the parish, which is in a far west side neighborhood of Cleveland.
“We’re a people of action and we’re a vibrant parish,” she said. “We’d had no problem getting it up and running, given the chance to dialogue with the bishop. I’m looking forward to it.
“This is an opportunity for St. Pat’s to become almost new and improved, where we mix traditional things we have from the past and improve upon them, and add new things.”
The parishes were among 27 closed under a reconfiguration plan announced by Bishop Lennon in 2009. Another 41 were merged to form 18 new parishes. Most were in urban areas and many were founded to serve European immigrants.
The plan was devised after a years-long process that saw parishioners clustered together to discuss how to maintain ministries in designated areas and ultimately suggested to Bishop Lennon which parishes might close. In some cases, Bishop Lennon followed the recommendations; in others he decided to close some parishes that were not targeted for closing by the cluster groups, upsetting many involved in the process.