THE Rev. Robert Marrone, Priest Who Leads Breakaway Cleveland Catholic Congregation, Suspended from "Priestly Ministry"

By Michael O'Malley
Plain Dealer
May 31, 2012

Members of the Community of St. Peter take communion in their new worship space in August 2010.

The Rev. Robert Marrone has been suspended from priestly ministry for disobeying an order by Cleveland Catholic Bishop Richard Lennon to remove himself as pastor of a breakaway congregation, according to a letter the priest wrote to his followers.

Marrone and his congregation, the Community of St. Peter, broke away from the diocese to set up their own worship space in a commercial building in August 2010, four months after Lennon closed their church, St. Peter, in downtown Cleveland.

The closing was part of a diocesewide downsizing that saw the elimination of 50 churches.

But the majority of the congregation and Marrone vowed to stay together, leasing space in a century-old warehouse, where they have been celebrating Mass since their self-imposed exile.

Last week, the bishop met with the priest and told him that the breakaway congregation of more than 300 was not in communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

According to a letter Marrone wrote this week to his congregation, Lennon told him he had seven days from the May 22 meeting to remove himself as pastor of the community or immediately be suspended from his priestly duties.

Marrone wrote: "I will not comply with this decree and I intend to remain in solidarity with this community and will not remove myself as pastor of the Community of St. Peter."

The seven days expired Tuesday.

Diocese spokesman Robert Tayek said in an email Wednesday that he did yet have all the details of the meeting between Marrone and Lennon.

He said the bishop "asked Father Marrone to reconcile himself with the diocese and that he communicate his response within seven days, which he did."

"As proposed, the Rev. Marrone wrote a letter in response to Bishop Lennon and indicated he would not comply with the request that he reconcile," Tayek wrote in his email.

Marrone could not be reached for comment.

Bob Kloos, an ex-priest and member of the board of trustees at the Community of St. Peter, said the bishop's action is mean-spirited and divisive. And it comes at a time, he said, when Lennon -- recently directed by Rome to reopen 11 closed churches -- has called for "peace and unity in the Diocese of Cleveland."

"I think the bishop's action here is very severe," said Kloos. "This is as harsh as you can get."

Asked how he feels the community will respond, Kloos said, "I think we're going to celebrate the liturgy this Sunday and next Sunday and the Sundays after that.

"We're not going to change," he said. "And the bishop will continue to do what he does best -- letting people know he's in charge."

Citing a shortage of priests, parishioners and collection-basket cash, Lennon, over a 15-month period beginning in 2009, closed 50 churches, mostly in inner-city areas.

Eleven of them, including St. Peter's, appealed to Rome, arguing they were self-sustaining parishes with enough resources to stay alive.

In March, a Vatican panel, the Congregation for the Clergy, upheld the appeals, saying Lennon did not follow proper procedures under canon law when he closed them.

The bishop had 60 days to appeal the Congregation's decrees, but in April he announced he would reopen the churches.

Lennon this month began meeting with parishioners of the closed churches, which, while under appeal, could not be sold, so they have been sitting locked and vacant for years.

It wasn't immediately clear whether a majority of the members of the Community of St. Peter will want to return to their old church on the corner of Superior Avenue and East 17th Street.

In his letter, Marrone said, "I will not nor cannot be involved in any aspect of the supposed reopening of the parish."

Marrone scheduled a community members-only meeting for Monday to answer questions and discuss the community's future.

It was not the first time the bishop has told Marrone and his followers to give up their unsanctioned worship and return to the diocese.

In January 2011, Lennon told Marrone in a letter that he had 48 hours to remove himself from the breakaway group or face "canonical action." But no action was taken until now.

On the Sunday after that 48-hour deadline expired and Marrone announced to the community that he would stay, the congregation jumped to its feet with applause and shouts of "Bravo!"

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 216-999-4893








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