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Parish Initiative Catalyzes Change in Vatican Policy
Landmark Cleveland Victories Set Precedent

A FutureChurch initiative designed to provide Catholics with tools to defend their parish homes has contributed to a highly significant change in Vatican policy. Over the past five years our Save Our Parish Community project guided successful parishioner appeals across the U.S., and most recently, in Cleveland, Ohio. A March 7, 2012, decree from the Congregation for the Clergy overruled Cleveland Bishop Richard Lennon’s March 2009 decision to suppress eleven Cleveland parishes and close their churches.  Exceeding all expectations, the Cleveland decrees actually set a new precedent. For the first time, a bishop was ordered to restore suppressed parishes as well as reopen their churches.

Cartoon of the Pope cutting a lock and chain off a door to the Lazarus Parish.  On the side, it says 'Welcomed Spring Break.'

According to a Commentary on Vatican Decrees Upholding Cleveland Parishioner Appeals, written by canon lawyer, Sr. Kate Kuenstler, PHJC, JCD: “Both the Congregation for Clergy and the Apostolic Signatura now make a clear distinction between the legitimate reasons to merge parishes and legitimate reasons to close a church.” No longer considered legitimate reasons for closing a church are the following:

  1. The shortage of priests
  2. The church is in close proximity to another church.
  3. The church is no longer considered necessary for worship when a parish is suppressed or merged.
  4. The maintenance for a building no longer needed as a church for Divine worship is a financial burden to the parish.

In February 2011, FutureChurch received the first hint that Vatican policy was changing from rubber-stamping bishops’ decisions to shrink vital parishes to correspond to the number of priests. We learned our Save Our Parish Community initiative had contributed to the partial success of appeals in Allentown, Springfield, and Buffalo where Vatican rulings upheld parishioner appeals to keep their churches open.  However, the rulings also upheld the bishops’ right to suppress the parish communities that financially supported the churches.  Still, the rulings were a step forward since bishops would be less inclined to suppress vibrant, solvent parishes if they could not sell their churches.``

After Bishop Lennon ordered the closure of 52 Cleveland parishes in 2009, FutureChurch offered guidance, resources and contact with canon lawyers.  Within a week Catholics from some 20 parishes downloaded resources from the Save Our Parish Community section of our website.  An email chain was established and canon lawyer Sr. Kate Kuenstler provided both general and individualized advice to stunned parishioners. Two large parishes succeeded immediately in their appeals to the Bishop.  Sr. Kate guided others in deciding whether to appeal and what to include in their recourse to the Congregation for the Clergy. Quickly dubbed  “Canonical Appeals for Dummies,” Sr. Kate’s information was an important factor in the success of the Cleveland appeals, although the final victory would be long in coming.

In the meantime, determined Clevelanders Bob Kloos, Nancy McGrath, Pat Schulte-Singleton and Christine LaSalvia formed a new group called “Endangered Catholics” that banded together for mutual support.  Their hard work was not in vain. On April 17, 2012, thousands of Cleveland Catholics celebrated when Bishop Lennon announced he would not appeal the Vatican’s decrees.

The Canonical Appeals for Dummies resource subsequently guided other successful appeals. Regina Dilego from Springfield, MA, writes:  “I want to share with you that North American Martyrs has received notification from the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome.... They have decided in our favor! Your information essentially allowed me to compose focused documents that appear to have done the job. I cannot thank you enough.”  Sr. Kate’s Commentary was also influential in two recent successful appeals in Kansas City, KS, and Grand Rapids, MI.  Both resources have been downloaded by hundreds of parishioners in the U.S. as well as England, Ireland, Australia and Canada.

FutureChurch will honor Sr. Kate with the Reverend Louis J. Trivison Award on September 30 at our annual benefit in Cleveland. Over the past five years, Sr. Kate succeeded in winning many cases, including ones at the Congregation for the Clergy and the Apostolic Signatura, both very rare occurrences. All told, FutureChurch’s Save Our Parish Community initiative has helped Catholics from 28 U.S. parishes in six dioceses win their appeals, including thirteen in Cleveland, OH; nine in Allentown, PA; four in Springfield, MA; and one each in Camden, NJ, Buffalo NY, Kansas City, KS and Grand Rapids, MI. We have also worked closely with Peter Borré and Boston’s Council of Parishes, the courageous group that first resisted unjust church closings in Boston and then proceeded to assist Catholics in other cities. Along with Sr. Kate, Borré’s high profile media work and networking in Rome were important factors in catalyzing change.

As is true of all of FutureChurch’s grassroots initiatives, everything depends on faithful Catholics taking responsible action to address church injustices that cry out for redress.

Focus on FutureChurch

Summer 2012


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