March 16, 2012

08RNS: Cleveland: Vatican Reverses 13 Church Closures

Cleveland: Vatican Reverses
13 Church Closures

BY MICHAEL O’MALLEY                                                                                          ©2012 Religion News Service

In an extraordinary move, the Vatican has reversed the closure of 13 churches in the Diocese of Cleveland, saying the parishes must be restored and the sanctuaries reopened for worship, according to activists who fought the closings.
The diocese and Bishop Richard Lennon, who ordered the closures as part of a downsizing plan in 2009 and 2010, could appeal the reversals.
The 13 parishes had filed appeals with the Vatican after Lennon closed 50 churches, citing changes in demographics and shortages of priests and cash.
Since the closings, parishioners have been swamping Rome with flurries of letters, arguing that their parishes were vibrant communities wrongfully snuffed out by the diocese.
Some parishes like Cleveland's St. Patrick's Church hired Boston activist Peter Borre and canon lawyers in Rome to argue on their behalf.
Borre, who regularly traveled to Rome representing Cleveland parishes, said on March 7 that the reversals of Lennon's closings are "unprecedented for Catholic America."
Borre said the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy, the panel that handled the appeals, ruled in favor of the parishioners regarding both closing procedures and canon law.
"This is very significant because it means that Lennon erred procedurally and substantively," Borre said. "If he had been reversed only procedurally, he could reboot, start the procedure again and fix the procedural error.
"But he cannot fix a substantive error."
Borre said Lennon can either comply with the Vatican's decrees or, within 60 days, appeal to the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican's supreme court. The bishop could also stall, saying he doesn't have enough priests or money to reconstitute the parishes, said Borre.
Robert Tayek, a spokesman for the diocese, said the rulings had not yet been reviewed by the bishop.