So Bishop Richard Lennon announced Tuesday last that he will not involve the diocese in an appeal of the Vatican’s ruling that 12 parishes in the diocese are to reopen. It would have been a very expensive and time consuming endeavor and bring more hardship to the diocese. His decision seems to be the wisest considering the circumstances.
That being said it will not be as easy as just opening the doors, turning on a light switch, and dusting off the pews. The whole process will be terribly complicated and have far reaching consequences throughout the diocese. Here are some of the challenges to face:
Let us take a local example to St. Sebastian. St. Mary parish is on the list for reopening. In my humble opinion it is one of the most architecturally significant buildings in our diocese and so I am pleased that it has a second chance. But it is exactly that: a chance, not something assured. With the parish itself there will be the task of getting the parish started. There have been no employees, no staff, no parishioners, and no income for a couple of years. It is one thing to start a parish meeting in a gym and building up to something great; it is another to start with the heavy burden of significant buildings that need lots of attention.
Very few Catholics live in the parish boundaries since the highway came through and so bringing people back will not be so easy – which also means surrounding parishes may start losing people. Nobody living outside the parish boundaries can be forced to return (and since in this diocese we are very lax about where people attend anyway, those who have moved on to other places who do live in the boundaries will not be forced to return if they choose not to.) When the Akron parishes were first formed, you would be refused membership in a parish in which boundaries you did not reside. That made it easier to start something.
Much of the portables from each of the parishes are in an undisclosed warehouse in Cleveland for safe keeping. (Knowing how abandoned churches have been vandalized and robbed in the past, this was a wise decision.) But all that has to be shipped back (at some expense from some place) and then organized once again.
There is nothing at the parish for Mass. No wine, no bread, no bulletins, no copy machine contracts, no soap, no toilet paper, no cleaning contracts, no extra light bulbs, no pest control, no one working on the grounds, no missalettes, no up to date books with the new translation of the Mass, no secretaries, not maintenance men, no musicians, no repairs have been made to pianos or pipe organs, so forth and so on . . . There is not so much as a Mass schedule or a confession schedule . . . How does one get the word out?
Then are those things that one does not think about. Since the current entities will be dissolved, in this case the parish known as St. Bernard-St. Mary, insurance records must be changed, bank records must be change, utilities, so forth and so on. Then there is the matter of sacramental records: Where will those who were baptized, married, confirmed, etc, be recorded if the combined entity is dissolved and reestablished as two parishes?
The parish will also be saddled with the responsibility of funding itself as well as making sure that it is a vibrant parish. There will be significant repairs that will have to be made to the buildings. Grand though they may be, they needed sky rocketing repairs before the closure, they will need even more now after being left mostly vacant for two years. That will probably be the biggest hurdle of all. Please pray for these parishes that they can see through this hump. There is no money coming from anywhere else . . . those funds simply do not exist. The monies raised from the diocesan capitol campaign are already designated and legally obligated in other areas. And despite what people might think, the diocese is definitely NOT sitting on bags of money without anyplace to spend it.
There will be changes for surrounding parishes also. Will the pastor at St. Bernard/St. Mary be able to remain? How will the cluster be re-designated? Where will 12 additional priests come from? Will smaller parishes that have parochial vicars (such as St. Sebastian, St. Francis, St. Augustine) no longer have that luxury? It will of course mean that the surrounding parishes that enjoyed an increase of persons as well as resources may now see a reduction. What if the new (or rather old) St. Mary Parish decided to start an extraordinary form Mass? Can this city support two such Masses? Would people at St. Sebastian return to their former parish or would we drain from St. Mary? If Fr. P. is pulled from this parish to cover all of the extra posts available would there be enough priests who know the extraordinary form to cover both parishes?
It may seem so, but this is not to discourage the potential good that may come of all of this. It is offered in the same way that one might talk to a teenager who wants his own car. There’s more to driving than driving – there’s insurance, there’s maintenance, there’s the cost of gas, there’s keeping the car clean . . . And re-opening a parish it is more than just throwing open the doors (as some have said. I must say I laughed with the city of Cleveland passed a resolution to have Bishop Lennon reopen Catholic parishes by Easter. 1) Not so easy. 2) So much for separation of Church and state.) It will be a challenging process – will require prayer, patience, understanding and sacrifice on everybody’s part – even those not directly involved - if this project is going to be successful.
So let’s to it.