August 27, 2014

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Most say Catholic church ruling doesn’t affect St. Mary

LORAIN — The former St. Mary Church is not among the churches whose closings and mergers have been overturned by the Vatican, according to most of those fighting to reverse decisions of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland.

A story in Thursday’s Chronicle-Telegram reported that St. Mary — now known as Mary, Mother of God Parish — was among those churches affected.

Patricia Schulte-Singleton, who leads the Endangered Catholics group, said the former St. Mary wasn’t among the 13 churches affected. Christine Schenk, with the group FutureChurch, also said that as far as she knew St. Mary wouldn’t be affected by the Vatican decisions.

Bob Kloos, who is vice president of Endangered Catholics, however, said he heard that St. Mary may be on the list, but only for a name change.

A partial list provided to The Associated Press by Peter Borre, an attorney who has fought the changes imposed by Bishop Richard Lennon in recent years, didn’t include the church.

St. Mary’s congregation was merged with the now-shuttered Holy Trinity Church in 2009 and renamed Mary, Mother of God Parish. The merged parish congregates at the former St. Mary church.

St. Mary had appealed its closure, according to Joan Reidy, a lifelong parishioner who helped write the document. She said technically both St. Mary and Holy Trinity were closed and a new parish was formed that is now Mary, Mother of God.

Reidy said the appeal was filed before the decision was made not to close the building. She said as far as she knows the St. Mary appeal is still in Rome.

“We were blessed to receive some wonderful new community members from Holy Trinity and St. Joseph,” she said. “Whatever the Vatican decides, we’ll be fine with that. We have to be, because there’s not much we can do about it.”

She said that the church had continued its social justice ministry and food pantry.

“That’s what’s important in a downtown church or any church,” she said.

Diocese spokesman Bob Tayek said in a statement Thursday that official decrees reversing Lennon’s decisions hadn’t arrived in Cleveland.

“The Diocese of Cleveland is awaiting official word from the Vatican concerning any decrees,” Tayek wrote in an email. “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.”

Lennon must decide whether to abide by the ruling from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy or challenge it before the church’s top court. He has 60 days to do so.

Schulte-Singleton, which challenged the closings, called on Lennon to meet with affected parishioners and reopen the churches.

“I think it would be in his best interest, as well as the diocese’s best interest,” she said.

The Vatican decision represents a rare instance in which Rome has reversed a U.S. bishop on the shutdown of churches. The Congregation for the Clergy ruled that Lennon failed to follow church law and procedure in the closings three years ago.

The 13 churches were among 50 shut down or merged by Lennon, who said the diocese, which serves Lorain County and seven other counties, could no longer keep them open because of declining numbers of parishioners and a shortage of priests.

The cutbacks, which left the Cleveland Diocese with 174 parishes, were prompted in part by the drop in the city’s population as people moved to the suburbs — a phenomenon that has also led to church closings in cities including Detroit, Philadelphia and Boston.

Nicholas Cafardi, who has a degree in church law and teaches at the Duquesne University law school in Pittsburgh, said the Vatican decision was a rarity because closing a church “is based on diocesan pastoral concerns that the bishop, presumably, knows better than Rome.”

He said the Vatican has recently required bishops in Boston, Syracuse, N.Y., and Allentown, Pa., to keep once-closed churches open for worship.

A potentially lengthy appeal to the Vatican’s top court by Lennon would pit him against the powerful church office that ruled against him, she said.

FutureChurch, a Cleveland-based coalition that lobbies for a stronger voice for lay Roman Catholics, called on Lennon to skip any appeal and restore affected parishes.

“We hope the diocese will reach out to appealing parishioners and reconcile by engaging them in the planning to restore them to their parish homes,” Schenk said in an email statement.

“This has gone on too long,” the statement said. “Cleveland Catholics need to heal and begin rebuilding positive relationships with diocesan leadership. This would go a long way toward restoring credibility and confidence in the bishop.”