Catholic Diocese of Cleveland Bishop Richard G. Lennon has issued a letter to the more than 700,000 Catholics in the eight-county diocese to assure them that he is working on a response to Vatican rulings that upheld appeals from parishioners challenging the bishop’s orders to close 13 parishes.

Lennon received documents from the Vatican Congregation for Clergy on March 14, a week after Peter Borre, a Boston activist who has fought the closing of churches in the Cleveland diocese, told the Associated Press that the Congregation of the Clergy had ruled Lennon did not follow proper procedures in closing the 13 parishes.

While Borre and other critics of the closings have interpreted the documents to say that the bishop’s mandates to shutter the parishes have been overturned, diocesan officials say the documents must be analyzed before they can reach that conclusion.

“The language in the decrees is being carefully studied to see what is being said by the Vatican,” said Robert Tayek, spokesman for the diocese. “This is pretty new territory. We can’t find a precedence for it.

“Once we figure out what the Vatican is saying, then we have to figure out what all of the options are: Do we appeal or not? Do we appeal some but not all? If we appeal, does the status of the closed parishes change?”

The 13 parishes in question were among 50 closed or merged between August 2009 and June 2010 as part of a diocesan restructuring plan to address dwindling attendance and finances and a worsening priest shortage.

Two of the 13 — St. Mary’s and St. John the Baptist — are in Akron.

Parishioners from at least three closed parishes (two in Cleveland and one in Lakewood) have urged Lennon to reopen their churches. Some have asked to have them open for Easter on April 8.

Although Lennon has 60 days from receipt of the Vatican documents to appeal, critics contend that the congregations cannot be denied access to their church buildings.

In his letter, dated March 27, Lennon states that things are not that simple.

“I can assure you that this is not nearly as clear–cut as it may appear on the surface. Although the decrees are brief in length, they are deep in underlying meaning and I continue to receive significant input and clarification,” Lennon writes.

He states that he is engaged in a “prayerful and thoughtful process,” which includes consultation with members of the clergy and laity and experts in church law, to determine a course of action.

He also promises that when he reaches a decision, he will share his rationale.

“Be assured that I will act fully in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church and with the utmost respect for its governance and authority. I pray that God will guide me and I ask for your prayers,” Lennon writes in the letter, which he requests be distributed to parishioners during Masses this weekend.

A copy of the letter can be found on the diocesan website, www.diocese?ofcleveland.org.

Medina, Summit and Wayne are among the eight counties in the diocese.

Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or cjenkins@thebeaconjournal.com.