CLEVELAND — Twelve closed Roman Catholic churches spared by the Vatican in the Cleveland Diocese will be reopened, the bishop announced Tuesday.
The action was a response to last month's extraordinary Vatican decision to overrule his closing of the 12 parishes, a rare instance in which Rome reversed a U.S. bishop on the shutdown of churches.
Cleveland Bishop Richard Lennon had ordered the churches closed over the past several years because of declining numbers of priests and parishioners and financial issues. The Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy ruled Lennon failed to follow church law and procedure in the closings.
Parishioners, many of them second- and third-generation members of the churches, challenged some of the closings, staged sit-ins and other protests and even created a breakaway congregation.
Lennon said he wouldn't appeal the Vatican's decision because he wanted to avoid dragging out the dispute, creating more uncertainty and dividing the area's Catholic community. He said “it's time for peace and unity in the Diocese of Cleveland” and time for Catholics to come together to better serve people's needs.
“The church is primarily about people, their faith, and not about buildings,” Lennon said.
The 12 churches were among 50 shut down or merged by Lennon. The cutbacks left the eight-county Cleveland Diocese with 174 parishes in all as Catholics and members of the wider community moved out of Cleveland for suburban communities.
Cleveland's population has fallen 17 percent, to just under 400,000, since 2000 and the number of Catholics in the diocese has declined from 797,000 to 710,000 since 2007.
Many of the reopening parishes still face some of the challenges that spurred their closures, and they will have to show that they have the funding and active membership needed to keep operating, though the diocese is willing to assist them, Lennon said. He said officials have yet to make major staffing decisions but noted the area's clerical resources would be spread thinner because fewer priests are available.
The diocese had begun selling its closed churches, with some bought by other denominations and charter schools. The sale of churches was put on hold in cases where the closings were challenged.