Closed Catholic Churches in Cleveland Area Could Begin Reopening Next Month, Bishop Lennon Says

By Michael O'Malley
Plain Dealer
May 23, 2012

Catholic Bishop Richard Lennon, speaking Wednesday to Plain Dealer editors and reporters, says he hopes to reopen 11 churches by Aug. 1.

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- lennon.jpgView full sizeMarvin Fong, The Plain DealerCatholic Bishop Richard Lennon, speaking Wednesday to Plain Dealer editors and reporters, says he hopes to reopen 11 churches by Aug. 1.

Cleveland Catholic Bishop Richard Lennon said Wednesday that he hopes to have all the closed churches that won their Vatican appeals reopened by the beginning of August.

He said he wants to begin opening some of them by mid -June. And "by the first of August," he said. "Done."

The bishop said that for one of the 12 churches -- St. Mary's in Lorain -- he only has to restore its name. It had been renamed Mary Mother of God after he merged it with another parish at the St. Mary site.

The bishop made his statements to the editorial board of The Plain Dealer. It was the first time he has publicly discussed a timetable for reopening the churches, which have been closed for two years or more.

Lennon acknowledged that some reopened churches might have to share a pastor. "The 11 of them are very different," he said. "Some are more vibrant than others."

He said he has been meeting with representatives of the closed churches to "get a sense of what their aspirations are -- who they were and where do they want to be now." He expects to wrap up that initial round of meetings next week.

"I'm looking for some vision so I can pick the right guy for pastor," Lennon said. "I've got to somehow figure out what is feasible. It's not just open the door and turn the lights on."

The churches were among 50 Lennon closed over a 15-month period beginning in 2009 as part of a diocesewide reconfiguration driven by shortages of priests, cash and parishioners.

The 12 appealed to a Vatican tribunal, the Congregation for the Clergy. In March, the Congregation issued decrees upholding the appeals, saying Lennon did not properly follow canon law or procedure when he closed the churches.

The bishop had 60 days to appeal the decrees, but last month he told a press conference he would not appeal and that he would reopen the churches -- St. Casimir, St. Emeric, St. Peter, St. Barbara, St. Wendelin, St. Patrick (West Park) and St. Adalbert, all in Cleveland; St. John the Baptist and St. Mary, both in Akron; St. Mary of Bedford; and St. James in Lakewood.

Meanwhile, St. Patrick, represented by canon lawyers in Rome, filed a motion Wednesday with the Congregation, asking the panel to order Lennon to reopen St. Patrick within 15 days.

The motion seeks an undisclosed amount of damages for every day of delay. St. Patrick, and two other churches, had filed a similar motion with the Congregation in March. There has been no ruling from the Vatican panel.

The diocese's spokesman, Robert Tayek, said Wednesday evening that it had received no word from the Vatican about St. Patrick's latest filing.

Lennon began meeting with parishioners of some of the closed churches last week. Meetings are continuing this week and by next week he will have met parishioners representing all 12 churches, Lennon said. A second round of meetings is planned for next month.

The bishop acknowledged that some churches, which he declined to name, face significant challenges after they reopen. "Some people have died," he said. "Some people have found a new home and don't want to go back."

Lennon said it will be up to the reconstituted parishes to map out and follow a survival plan. "There are limitations on our resources to help them," he said.

On the question of the Community of St. Peter -- parishioners who broke away from the diocese and set up their own sanctuary in a former warehouse after Lennon closed their church -- the bishop said he will reach out to bring them back.

"That's my objective," he said. "I don't have any idea how that's going to be accepted."

During the lengthy appeal process, Lennon was prohibited by church law from selling the 11 properties or their sacred artifacts. He was also prohibited from spending their savings accounts.

The bishop said the diocese has a cleaning contractor for the mothballed churches and has been making plans to return statues and sacred artifacts that were removed for safekeeping.

Lennon said that Henninger's religious goods store in Parma, which is storing the diocese's artifacts, estimated it would take about 30 work days to return all the removed items.



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