Apostolic Visitation of Diocese of Cleveland

BCI was tied-up most of the day today and we are just getting to blog on this news now.

Bishop Richard Lennon, of the Diocese of Cleveland, and former Vicar General and Apostolic Administrator in Boston, has requested an apostolic visitation of his diocese. In his letter announcing this, he said: “This visit will be an opportunity to gather extensive information on all aspects of the activities of the Diocese and will allow for an objective assessment of my leadership.”

Below is the text of his letter, and further below, you will find Rocco Palmo’s coverage of this on Whispers in the Loggia.

Bishop Lennon Requests Diocesan Visit

CLEVELAND – July 11, 2011 – Acting on the request of Most Rev. Richard G. Lennon, The Holy See has asked Most Rev. John M. Smith, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Trenton (N.J.), to visit the Diocese of Cleveland.

Bishop Lennon said, “While I am confident that I am faithfully handling the responsibilities entrusted to me, I personally made this request earlier this year because a number of persons have written to Rome expressing their concerns about my leadership of the Diocese. This visit will be an opportunity to gather extensive information on all aspects of the activities of the Diocese and will allow for an objective assessment of my leadership. I ask for prayers that this process will support the vibrancy and vitality of our Diocese going forward.”

Bishop Smith will be in Cleveland this week. Following the conclusion of his visit, Bishop Smith will submit a report to The Holy See; no timetable has been announced.
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From Whispers in the Loggia: Cleveland Rocked; Vatican Probes Bishop, Church Closings

Two years after Bishop Richard Lennon‘s move to close 50 parishes plunged the diocese of Cleveland into a ferocious cycle of reaction from the pews — which, among other things, saw one of the communities move to form a renegade “independent” parish with its former pastor late last year — the head of the 750,000-member Ohio church announced this morning that the Holy See had launched an investigation into “all aspects” of diocesan activities, the bishop citing discontent expressed to the Vatican over “my leadership of the diocese” as the reason behind it.

Saying that the Visitation was taking place at his own request, Lennon revealed that Rome had appointed the recently-retired Bishop John “Mort” Smith of Trenton to conduct the probe and report his conclusions.

Already on the ground, the Jersey prelate will spend this week in Cleveland gathering information. The chancery said no timetable was known for the process.

A canon lawyer by training who spent significant stints of his priesthood both as a pastor and top administrator in his native Newark, Smith became a particularly well-loved figure among his people and priests in Trenton, even while overseeing his own difficult rounds of parish planning efforts over 13 years at the helm of the 850,000-member “great diocese,” home to the nation’s second-largest group of permanent deacons and, invariably over recent years, a notably high number of priestly ordinands for a mid-sized fold.

Pummeled by the stark realities of drastic location and population shifts, significantly lower rates of Mass attendance and sacramental practice, and sizable net losses of priests, practically every local church in the Northeast and Midwest has been forced to grapple with the triple-shot of decline that’s combined to, at best, render the Rust Belt’s century-old parish configurations ill-suited to the church’s present circumstances there.

In the cycle’s two-decade span — which has seen the Last Mass mark the end of nearly 2,000 parishes nationwide — dioceses have tackled the new dynamic with diverse approaches that, while all geared toward the same end of thinning burdensome numbers of largely-empty churches, have met with wildly varied reactions depending on the scope and time-frame of the planning effort, the levels of consultation employed in it and, above all, the degree to which diocesan leaders have been able to heal reeling parishioners, who are inevitably made to live with a change often as difficult as it’s needed, one that invariably stokes anger, hurt, shaken faith, and worse.

As vicar-general of his native Boston, Lennon oversaw 2005’s tumultuous closing of 67 parishes there, which came only three years after American Catholicism’s onetime-flagship was rocked by the revelations of sex-abuse and cover-up that sparked the national crisis. The swath of moves did cut fairly, however; among the closings the then-auxiliary recommended was that of his own boyhood church.

Traumatic as the scandals’ emergence was, losing the churches made for “the sting people feel,” as one Boston pastor pressed into consolidating parishes reflected, adding that it took his merged entity five years to definitively move forward from the scars of reconfiguration.

In a related development, the Boston chancery recently announced plans for a second wave of mergers which, according to some early estimates, could see the archdiocese’s current parish-count of 300 cut in half over the next several years. [BCI note: this is not exactly correct–the existing “parishes” would be grouped together with shared pastoral services teams, but they would canonically remain as parishes]. On the broader scene, while the toll of the closings has already been beyond significant, an equal or possibly greater sweep is likely still to come over the next decade, as the last large classes of priests (the group mostly ordained in the years immediately following the Council) reach retirement age — a demographic tidal wave that will wipe out a full half, or even a majority, of many of today’s active presbyterates in an astonishingly short space of time.

The Vatican’s move for an inquest of the Cleveland situation is but the latest evidence of a shift of sentiment on the part of the Roman Curia when it comes to mass consolidations of American parishes. While bishops have long been given a relatively free hand to act in the best interests of their dioceses as a whole — provided, that is, the procedures used faithfully follow the provisions of canon law — the Holy See has overturned several closings in Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts through the first six months of 2011 after parishioners appealed to the Congregation for the Clergy, a filing known in ecclesial terms as administrative recourse.

Where applicable, the issue of parish mergers and their optimal scope is expected to figure prominently during the US bishops’ meetings with the Pope and Curia during the bench’s coming ad limina visit to Rome — the USCCB’s first seven-yearly report to Benedict XVI — which begins through November and December with the Northeastern provinces of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Newark.

* * *

Named to Cleveland in the wake of his hometown tempest, repeating the tough task on a proportionally-larger scale proved even more brutal for the 64 year-old bishop — a mathematician and self-trained canonist whose hard-charging, sometimes brusque style lends itself to making tough calls, but at the same time allows Lennon to be effortlessly portrayed as the proverbial “bad cop.” Accordingly, while it was intended as a gesture of solicitude and support, the prelate’s practice of celebrating the final Mass of the shuttering parishes — most of them in the city’s once-bustling ethnic bastions, now largely a shadow of their former selves — has made for some ugly incidents, as one congregation walked out when the bishop began to preach, shouting from the pews elsewhere led to a mid-Mass argument, and Lennon reportedly confided that he had likewise been cursed at and spat upon by irate members of the affected communities.

Given the tensions, the city’s paper of record said that bishop was accompanied to the parish “funerals” by uniformed and plainclothes police.

Though the Clevelander said he requested the visitation on his own, it is exceedingly rare for Rome to make an intervention of this sort into the life of a local church.

Before now, the last time an American see was examined on-site is believed to have taken place in 1983, when concerns over Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen’s handling of several major areas of church life — including liturgy, formation of seminarians, ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics and the tribunal — brought the appointment of then-Archbishop James Hickey of Washington as apostolic visitor. Two years later, the findings resulted in the appointment of then-Fr Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh as auxiliary to Hunthausen while stripping the archbishop of much of his authority as Rome gave Wuerl ultimate jurisdiction over the hot-button areas examined by Hickey and his team.

The tension wrought by the move served to short-circuit the arrangement after little more than a year, and with a coadjutor subsequently named, Hunthausen retired at age 70 in 1991.

Elsewhere, the most recent high-profile visitation of a single diocese was the 2007 calling of an inquest into the Australian diocese of Toowoomba after local parishioners complained to Rome over an enduring illicit use of the Third Rite of Reconciliation — i.e. general absolution without individual confessions — outside of emergency situations, and Bishop William Morris’ note in a 2006 pastoral letter that, in light of the rapidly declining number of priests, “several responses have been discussed,” among which, he said, the church was being urged to consider the ordination of women and married men to the priesthood, as well as accepting the validity of ministers from other Christian communities to perform Catholic rites.

After the Holy See dispatched Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. of Denver to survey the scene firsthand, years of discussions between the Curia and Morris culminated in February when the Pope removed the Queensland prelate from office. In response, the bishop said in a letter to the diocese that, despite Vatican officials calling for his resignation in six separate instances, he refused, as leaving the post voluntarily, he wrote, “would mean that I accept the assessment of myself as breaking communio, which I absolutely refute and reject.”

Interesting, eh?  If complaints to Rome expressing concerns about a bishop’s leadership could result in a review of all aspects of the diocese and allow an objective assessment of the bishop’s leadership, then how do we get Cardinal O’Malley to request one for Boston?

As for the Cleveland situation, BCI does not yet know what to make of this, so for today we are just posting the information.  What do you think?

24 Responses to Apostolic Visitation of Diocese of Cleveland

  1. Lost in Boston says:

    Forgotten but not gone.

  2. Susan says:

    Hope that the Vicor that is coming from the Vatican will look into things in Boston.

  3. Mack says:

    Apparently Bishop Lennon is requesting the visitation himself, although maybe he was pressured into it. I don’t know. But it could be a smart move on his part. It shows he is willing to have an independent person evaluate his leadership.

    I realize that the parish closings are difficult. But let’s face it: Cleveland is vastly changed from what it was before. The ethnic Catholics that once populated the inner city are long gone. The steel and other industries are gone. How can people expect all these old churches to stay open. Yes, it’s sad, but the reality is that we are living through a great falling away from the faith, on a scale unprecedented since the Reformation. The Church will always bounce back in some way, but we are living through a winter of unbelief. The real problem is not money or buildings. It’s the falling away from the faith that has left the churches empty and with few vocations to the priesthood or religious life.

  4. Devoted Catholic says:

    I think we need to write to Rome and ask for it.

  5. DHO says:

    Well, I think this is a typical game of ‘gotcha’ which seems to be pro forma for broken institutions that haven’t a clue how to begin to heal. God forbid they would listen to those whom they are leading. This sure as hell isn’t an example of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do). I bet He’s just scratching his head.

  6. Suzanne says:

    [BCI edit] [It is my belief that] Lennon didn’t request the visitation. He was told the visitation was coming and was given the slightly face-saving opportunity to say he had requested it.

    The Holy See is much less likely to take such firm action in Boston because O’Malley is a Cardinal Archbishop. However, this visitation does give encouragement that whatever is reported to the Holy See about the corruption of the O’Malley Regime is worth while.

    • Mack says:

      But Lennon said in his letter, “I personally made this request earlier this year because a number of persons have written to Rome expressing their concerns about my leadership of the Diocese. ” I take him at his word.

  7. A. J. Constantino says:

    William, Peace of Christ!

    My wife has an aunt, who is a nun. In many conversations, we have had , over the years, sister Earle has always reminded me that “god choses the weak, to serve Him.”

    The day of my own Ordination to the Diaconate is proof!

    Do not let your love for the Eucharist – your love for the gospel be detered by mans’ sin. The Church is not the sinner!

    John Corapi needs our prayers! He is lost. Ours is a loving and merciful God. Who sent His Son as His sign for redemption and forgivness! Our Lord has not turn His back on John corapi – nor should we!

    william, Come Home! The Church needs you!

  8. Time for a change says:

    +Richard Lennon will always do what he thinks is right, without any concern for his personal situation. He is not always right but he never once cared more about himself than the Church and if he says he asked for a visit he asked. Lying is not something he could do.

    +Sean could learn a lot from + Richard. Turning away from his faith to buy consensus has done nothing for + Sean and even less for Boston. What is right is what should be. Popular is not the standard.

    • A Priest says:

      Couldn’t agree more and if Suzanne has PROOF of what she says she should share it, otherwise do not be the liar you accuse Bishop Lennon of being. Bishop Lennon is one of the most honest and honorable men I have had the pleasure of knowing in my life and Bishops across the country could take a page from his playbook if you ask me. If he says he asked for it than he did, period and end of story.

      • Another former employee says:

        I tiotally agree with you. You could always depend on Bishop Lennon. He is a kind and honorable person who does what is right not what is easy!

      • lost in boston says:

        Talk to those who accompianed him on his visits prior to the closures of these parishes. Then come back and talk about his honor and honesty.

      • A Priest says:

        Dear Lost in Boston,

        Just because someone does something you may disagree with doesn’t mean they are a liar. Bishop Lennon is too careful with his words and again too honorable a man to be a liar. Unless you have concrete proof and not some hearsay (or creation of a Peter Borre or the like) I’d be careful of being an internet tough guy, because Bishop Lennon is no liar.

      • lost in boston says:

        Let’s just leave it at this Father. I was present for one of these sham visits. I heard with these two ears Lennon giving his impression of our facilities. Those carefully crafted responses to very pointed questions left us scratching our heads. Yes, we came up on the wrong side of the decision but logic had nothing to do with this one. If nothing else, my faith in God is strengthened by this whole process because my faith in man is zilch. Especially those with pointy hats.

  9. A. J. Constantino says:


    THANK YOU for allowing me to respond to William!


  10. William says:

    I am not deterred AJ. I find it repulsive that a “Catholic” blogger who has posted here many times has gone on record defending Corapi while calling his accusers liars engaging in “bullsheet.” For this reason, BCI should not associate with this partisan hack.

    It will discredit this fine blog.

    Her comments have been utterly disgusting.

  11. William says:

    And by the way. Thanks and God bless you as well. And this entire forum!

  12. William, thank you for the positive feedback!

    BCI would like to send you an email regarding your comment, but we do not have an email address for you. If you would send us a message via the Contact Us page/form and include your email address, we will respond to you.

    As BCI readers know, this blog has not commented on the John Corapi situation. (We are glad we did not comment, and we do not plan to).

    As for other blogs who may reference BCI content and/or link to BCI, we have our hands very full here just dealing with our own content and comments. We would prefer to focus on doing a great job for our readers, so if you would like to interface with us further regarding other blogs or bloggers, please send us an email.

  13. Objective Observer says:

    It would make sense that +RGL asked for the visitation for three reasons:

    Any irregularities that arose on +Pilla’s watch would be correctly ascribed;
    Any misrepresentations made by those seeking redress in Rome would be apparent; and
    For good or ill, Richard has always done his homework, built his case, and never backed down from a confrontation with those who would challenge his position.

  14. bitsnbytes says:

    Bp. Lennon deserves some credit. He was realistic about the need to merge parishes and talked about it back in the 90s, but isn’t he also responsible for some of the bad aspects of the merger process, like RCAB’s attempt to grab the proceeds of closed parishes? They should have gone to the “receiving” parish, but the grab went on until the Vatican put a slapdown on it. Maybe there were some parts of canon law he didn’t learn well enough the first time around.

  15. HCC says:

    Of course, the only thing that will come out of that visitation will be, “nothing wrong here. Everything’s just dandy!”

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