Bishop Explains Closings

By Colette M. Jenkins
Beacon Journal
March 15, 2009

CLEVELAND: Officials in the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland today released a complete list of the 52 churches that will cease to exist 15 months from now and the letters sent to those parishes explaining why.

"This is an occasion for very mixed emotions for the Catholic faithful of the Diocese of Cleveland," Bishop Richard G. Lennon said during a morning news conference. "I recognize that for many people, there is a sadness because the church that they know is changing."

Beginning Saturday, parishioners in the 224 parishes of the diocese began receiving word of which churches would close, merge or remain as part of a massive reconfiguration that will result in 52 fewer parishes in the eight-county diocese by June 30, 2010.

Lennon reiterated the three primary reasons for the plan:

-- Population shifts. The ratio of parishes to the Catholic population has not shifted with the movement of parishioners away from urban areas to the suburbs.

Lennon noted that while the Catholic population in Cleveland has decreased by more than 60 percent since 1950, the Catholic population in the rest of Cuyahoga County has more than tripled.

-- Financial hardship. Forty-two percent of the parishes are operating in the red.

-- Fewer priests. There are 257 active diocesan priests, a decrease from 427 in 1990 and 565 in 1970.

"Gone are the days when parishes could have two or three or four priests or more," Lennon said. "The church is being strained in its resources. We had to face reality and do something."

The majority of the churches that are being closed — 29 directly and 23 through mergers — are in Cleveland, Lorain and Akron.

Parishes may appeal the bishop's decision by writing to him within 10 days. If he does not reverse his decision, an appeal can be made to the Vatican.

Akron will lose five churches: Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. John the Baptist, St. Mary, St. Hedwig and Christ the King.

St. Mary will merge with St. Bernard. St. John will merge with Annunciation. Christ the King will merge with St. Martha.

One church in Barberton — SS Cyril & Methodius — also will close.

St. Martha, Annunciation and St. Bernard will become new entities, with newly assigned pastoral leadership. The merged churches will be responsible for the property at the church that closes and will include sacred items and artifacts from the merging congregations.

The diocese will be responsible for selling or maintaining the property of the closed parishes. Sacred items and artifacts from those churches will be made available to other parishes, including those where former parishioners go.

Lennon said the reconfiguration is not motivated by financial gain for the diocese.

He said the diocese is committed to keeping the closed properties secure and free from vandalism. That, he said, will cost money.

An additional financial burden will fall on the diocese if the properties do not sell and fall into a different tax bracket, he said.

"There is no financial benefit to the diocese. I think the diocese is going to lose money," Lennon said. "It's not a moneymaker for the diocese."

Lennon said the most important next step is to help parishioners make the transition to a new parish. A manual to help walk parishioners through the transition will be given to each parish this month.

Lennon will meet March 25 with two lay leaders and the pastors, administrators and parish life coordinators of each parish that will close or merge.

"While a particular parish may be closing, the Church will be there for all of its people," Lennon said. "I sincerely hope that everyone who is going to Mass now will still be going once this reconfiguration process has been completed and that our evangelization and outreach will bring even more people to worship."


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