2010 SOPC News

Massachusetts.

Parishioners at Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Springfield, MA won the fight to keep their beloved 100 year-old church open. They took out billboards, went on Facebook and persuaded the City Council to declare the church a historic landmark. They also developed a plan for the future, raised money and added 60 families to the roles.

Oregon.

The Portland Archdiocese has pulled the sale listing for Dayton’s San Martin de Porres Mission following a protest of 100 members of San Martin de Porres worshipping community. Maria Sandoval-Cisneros helped organize the Save San Martin Committee that campaigned to preserve the Spanish-speaking mission, which was founded 30 years ago by Latino farmworkers.

St. Peter’s Community Creates Non-Profit Organization. 

About 350 former members of closed St. Peter parish in Cleveland have set up a nonprofit organization and rented new worship space.  “As the bishop went around the diocese closing parishes,” said community leader Bob Zack, “he kept saying a parish is not a piece of real estate. It’s a community of people. We understood that, we got it. If he wants the building, fine, take it. But we refuse to be suppressed as a community.”

Former pastor Fr. Bob Marrone has agreed to serve as chaplain and the new legally incorporated Community of St. Peter celebrated its first Mass Aug. 15.  Bishop Richard Lennon admitted on a local radio station that the Mass is valid, but believes it to be inappropriate. He has yet to meet with Marrone and community leadership.  St. Peter’s appeal in Rome has been extended until November. (National Catholic Reporter)

Cleveland Churchmen Ask Vatican to Intervene.

The Rev. Robert Begin, a Catholic priest, and the Rev. Kenneth Chalker, a Methodist minister, recently sent letters to Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi in Washington, D.C. seeking to stop Bishop Richard Lennon from closing churches.   “It is becoming more and more difficult for many parishioners and leaders alike to remain ‘Catholic’ in our diocese,” wrote Begin. “I believe the situation merits an apostolic visitor to conduct an objective inquiry into what is occurring.” Chalker wrote, “ The marvelous legacy and respect in which the diocese has been held in this community by ALL persons in this city is under assault, not from ‘outside forces,’ but as a result of its current episcopal leadership.” Diocese spokesman Robert Tayek strongly challenged the accusations: “I have worked directly with Bishop Lennon for the last four years and nothing, nothing in either letter contains a semblance of truth.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Vatican rejects Boston churches' appeals.  The Vatican has rejected final appeals by ten parishes closed five years ago by the Archdiocese of Boston in the wake of the clergy sex abuse scandal.  Parishioners are now considering fighting the closings in civilian courts, the leader of a parish advocacy group said. Peter Borré of the Council of Parishes said he did not expect the parishioners to back down now: "We expect the vigils to continue, so it's up to the archdiocese to decide whether to call in the cops." Since the closings, parishioners have led round-the-clock vigils at three churches. The archdiocese said in its statement that it "continues to seek a prayerful resolution to all of the vigils." (USA Today 5/18/10)

Cleveland Parishes Granted Appeal Extensions.  At least seven Cleveland churches ordered closed by Bishop Richard Lennon of the Cleveland Catholic Diocese received letters from the Vatican in early April extending the deadline for reviewing the churches' appeals of the closings. Bishop Lennon, who is now completing the closing of fifty Cleveland parishes, made an unexpected journey to Rome to meet with Vatican officials the same month. A Cleveland pastor, Fr. Bob Begin told the bishop in a March letter that the ongoing closings are violating the rights of parishioners and may be turning people away from salvation. (Cleveland Plain Dealer 4/9/10)

Cleveland St. Peter's Gives Powerful Witness. "The power of fear which has caused this injustice is not the last word, must not be the last word and will not be the last word," said Fr. Bob Marrone at the closing Mass of Historic St. Peter's parish on Easter Sunday. "I know it seems unbearable but we can bear it. Go forth into the world and be living stones," Marrone said. "God will tent with us wherever he go." Marrone predicted that the closing of the downtown church and suppression of the parish would come to be seen as, "one of the most egregious mistakes ever made by this diocese." (Cleveland Plain Dealer 4/5/10)

Closed Syracuse Churches Assessed $90,000 in Property Taxes.  The City of Syracuse, NY denied tax-exempt status to three recently closed Catholic churches and two parochial schools. To be exempt, said the city, the property has to be in use for a religious educational or other tax exempt purpose. (National Catholic Reporter 5/5/2010)

Hungarian Government Joins Appeal to Save Cleveland Parish
In December, US Representative Dennis Kucinich met with an aide to Hungarian Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai to discuss St. Emeric church, a 105-year-old parish that has been ordered closed as part of downsizing by the Cleveland Diocese. Shortly after the meeting Bajnai sent his appeal letter to Rome. According to Bela Szombati, the Hungarian ambassador to the U.S. he has not yet received a response. The vibrant ethnic church has more than 600 registered members, celebrates Masses in both Hungarian and English, and has Hungarian language classes and various cultural programs. A spokesman for the Cleveland diocese had no immediate comment. (Cleveland Plain Dealer 2/19/10)

Clevelanders Prompt Historic Landmark Protection, Financial Disclosure
At press time, there were reports that, after extensive consultation In late January Cleveland's Landmarks Commission recommended that six more Catholic churches be designated as historical city landmarks, which would give them some protection against demolition or structural changes. They would be added to a list of 31 Catholic churches designated as Landmarks. The Cleveland Catholic Diocese, which is in the process of closing 50 parishes, opposes the designations that City Council will now consider adopting through legislation.

The Cleveland protest group "Endangered Catholics” was surprised by a recent statement from Bishop Richard Lennon indicating that assets from suppressed parishes could follow parishioners to their new parish. Originally, people believed that the assets would go to the diocese. But diocesan spokesperson Robert Tayek said that if a congregation or part of a congregation of a suppressed parish moves to another parish, the assets or a portion of the assets would go with the people to their new parish even though a canonical merger had not occurred. Lennon's remarks were made in response to public protests at the closing Mass of Akron Sacred Heart parish at which he was officiating.

Camden Catholics Sue Diocese
Diocese Almost 300 members of St. Vincent Pallotti parish have sued the Camden Diocese, seeking to retrieve more than $1 million in donations made before the diocese announced a controversial merger plan for their parish. Parishioners also received a letter from the Congregation for the Clergy saying they may pursue their appeal challenging the diocese's plan to merge their vibrant 900-family parish with another smaller parish. The group organized after Bishop Joseph Galante announced he would close half of Camden's 124 parishes.

Toledo Diocese To Twin Ten More Parishes
The Diocese of Toledo announced in mid-February that it will "twin” ten parishes as a way of coping with the priest shortage. "We're trying not to do the closures because of the trauma that's involved with that,” said Sister Joyce Lehman, secretariat leader for pastoral leadership. With this system of twin parishes, one pastor will care for two parishes while each church retains its own identity and ministries. In 2005, the diocese downsized from 165 to 132 parishes, closing 17, merging 14 parishes into 6, and twinning 52 parishes. Dan Thiel, president of United Parishes, an organization created after 2005's closings, said: "Our concern is that what they do is they start twinning those parishes and they later turn around and close them, and they shut the community out of the process.” Thiel's organization will discuss the diocese's plan at its monthly meeting.