Deadline Passes to Appeal Church Closings

March 27, 2009

CLEVELAND -- Several more churches of the Cleveland Diocese slated to close next yea, filed appeals with Bishop Richard Lennon by Friday's 5 p.m. deadline.

Parishioners of St. Colman on West 65th Street hand delivered 3,300 handwritten letters of petition to the Diocesan offices downtown.

The forms had been filled out by church members and supporters, and in each people were free to say why they thought St. Colman's should stay open.

The parish is slated to close in the summer of 2010 as part of a massive Diocese-wide reconfiguration plan announced by Bishop Lennon on March 14.

"Many people talked about the historic nature of St. Colman's and the magnificent building and artworks here," said lifelong parishioner Rita Gaertner. "Others stressed the mission of our church here in the neighborhood."

"We're appealing for mediation with the Bishop. It would be wonderful if he could give us some of his time. I know that he had a big job," Gaertner explained.

"I can not believe that the Bishop would have chosen against St. Colman if he read all the material that was sent in."

In addition to the letters of petition, St. Colman filed its formal canonical appeal with the Bishop.

The Bishop has 30 days to respond to the appeals of each parish. If the appeals are turned down, the parishioners may appeal their scheduled closing to the Vatican.

At the magnificent Polish church St. Casimir's at East 82nd Street and Sowinski in Cleveland, Tina Girod helped prepare the parish's appeal. She likened the cathedral-like church to the faithful's family tree.

"This tree cannot be destroyed. The roots cannot be destroyed," Girod pleaded. "If that happens then the leaves will fall off, the branches will snap, the trunk will decay and fall to the ground. And it will be gone."

St. Casimir, which in its heyday in the 1950's had over 1,200 children in its school, now has 450 parishioners, most of whom come from the suburbs each Sunday to worship and support the ornate church.

Girod says all the parish's financial obligations are regularly met and that it would be disastrous to close the church where Pope John Paul the Great once preached, as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla.

Other churches which confirmed their appeals include St. Barbara's, another Polish church on Denison Avenue on Cleveland's near West Side, and St. James in Lakewood.

Lakewood Mayor Ed FitzGerald took the extraordinary step of having a private one-hour meeting with Bishop Lennon to plead for the continued future of St. James. He says he entered the meeting with concerns about the scheduled closing of St. James, and left the meeting with concerns.

In Akron, Sacred Heart of Jesus parish also submitted an appeal to the Diocese. Parishioner Mary Ann Beresh says among the 250 church members are many Hungarians who attend Hungarian liturgy at 10 a.m. each Sunday.

A Slavic Village parish in Cleveland with the same name, Sacred Heart of Jesus, also appealed the Bishop's decision to close their church. It had originally been recommended that the Polish parish on Krakow Avenue be left open, but Bishop Lennon overturned the Cluster Committee's recommendation.

The announced closing came as a "shock and a surprise," according to a document parish members were urged to sign and deliver to Bishop Lennon.

In the document in support of Sacred Heart's appeal, the Bishop's motives in deciding to close the parish were questioned.

"Why would you close one successful business [church], and pour more bailout money into other floundering churches that will obviously never recover from the indebtedness and continued financial irresponsibility they find themselves in? We ask our Bishop," the document says.

It continues: "Does this closing send a message that you as a parishioner of any church should not work toward the success, stability, and profitability of your church in as much as your diocese will only pillage your church's success?"

"The Diocese has yet to disclose any reasonable or logical explanation to us in how this was decided upon and has demonstrated a total disregard toward any business sense or much more importantly, any common sense in this decision," the document concluded.


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