Some parishioners of closed parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland are expressing cautious optimism about the reopening of their churches, despite calls by some critics to restore them quickly.
Their concern comes in the wake of the news that the Vatican has overturned Cleveland Bishop Richard G. Lennon’s decision to close 13 parishes, including St. John the Baptist and St. Mary’s in Akron.
“The news is kind of bittersweet. It’s joyful to hear that Rome has made this decision, but I don’t know if there will be a resurgence, if the parish is reopened, because people have moved on,” said Gregory Friedl, a former parishioner of St. Mary’s parish. “It was very easy to close down. It’s going to be very difficult to resurrect.”
St. Mary’s, at 750 S. Main, closed in 2010. It was among the last of 50 parishes closed or merged by Lennon in the eight-county diocese between August 2009 and June 2010 to address dwindling attendance and finances and a worsening priest shortage.
In response to the closings, parishioners from shuttered parishes throughout the diocese protested and 14 parishes appealed to the Vatican. Among the 14 was St. Martha of Akron, which appealed to the Vatican to keep its name.
On Wednesday, Peter Borre, a Boston activist who has fought the closing of parishes in the Cleveland diocese, told the Associated Press that the Congregation of the Clergy ruled last week that Lennon did not follow proper procedures in the closings.
Lennon has declined to comment, pending the receipt of official documents from the Vatican.
Robert Tayek, a spokesman for the diocese, said he was told the documents had been delivered late Wednesday afternoon but subsequently discovered that the envelope contained unofficial copies of the documents.
“The Diocese of Cleveland is awaiting official word from the Vatican concerning any decrees. We first must see the official documents in order to review them and understand what exactly is being said; only then can a response be determined,” diocesan officials said in a prepared statement.
Even when the documents are received, a response from the diocese is not likely to come quickly because they will first need to be translated into English from Latin, the official language of the Church. The documents must also be reviewed by the bishop and canon lawyers before a statement is issued from the diocese, which can appeal the reversal to the Church’s top court in Rome.
While Lennon awaits the official documents, leaders of FutureChurch, an organization that provided guidance and resources to parishioners who filed appeals, are calling for diocesan leaders to meet with parishioners to develop a plan for restoring the 13 parishes and reopening their churches. FutureChurch, which is not affiliated with the diocese, promotes a stronger voice for lay Catholics.
Barb Piurkowsky, a parishioner of the now closed St. John the Baptist, located at 1034 Brown St., supports the call to reinstate the 13 parishes. But she is not convinced that her former parish, which closed in October 2009, will be revitalized.
“My desire, of course, is that these 13 churches will be reopened, but I’m not going to get my hopes up. I think we need to hear what the diocese is going to say about all of this,” Piurkowsky said. “It still doesn’t make sense to me that these churches sat empty and that the parishioners — who built these churches, paid to maintain them and volunteered to keep them open — never really got to ask the bishop to answer our questions. I think he owes it to us to sit down and have a question-and-answer session.”
St. John’s is now a part of Visitation of Mary Parish at Annunciation Church, 87 Broad St. Annunciation and St. John merged to form Visitation of Mary.
St. Martha’s is now the site of Blessed Trinity parish at 300 E. Tallmadge Ave. Blessed Trinity is the result of a merger of St. Martha and Christ the King. Christ the King Church, at 1584 Creighton, is closed.
St. Mary’s merged with St. Bernard to become St. Bernard-St. Mary parish. The new parish operates a school at the St. Mary’s site, 750 S. Main St., and worships at the St. Bernard site, 44 University Ave.
The other churches that appealed to the Vatican are St. Mary in Bedford; St. James in Lakewood; St. Mary in Lorain; St. Margaret Mary in South Euclid; and St. Adalbert, St. Barbara, St. Casmir, St. Emeric, St. Patrick, St. Peter and St. Wendelin, all in Cleveland.
Like many of the members of the closed parishes, neither Piurkowsky nor Friedl has officially joined other parishes. Both wrote letters to the Vatican, asking that their parishes be reopened.
“I think a lot of damage has been done and I don’t know if the people will come back if [St. Mary’s] is reopened,” Friedl said.
“I think it would behoove the diocese to bring [St. Mary’s] back because it was such a spiritual place that contributed to the vocations and it has done some major outreach with the school, which still serves the community in the inner-city. Still, in the back of my mind, I’m asking: Can it be resurrected?”
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org.