Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cleveland Diocese not alone in closing churches

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The people of the Diocese of Cleveland are not alone in going through the painful and difficult process of closing and merging churches.

Right now in Boston, there are people staging sit-ins, occupying closed churches in hopes the Archdiocese there will reverse its decisions of five years ago to close those churches.

While they take shifts in their peaceful protests, the Archdiocese has left the heat and lights on for them, and has decided not to try to force the protestors out.

However, having to maintain the five occupied church buildings and another nine churches whose closings are being appealed, is costing the Archdiocese of Boston almost a million dollars a year.

"I'm grateful we're not doing it the way we did it in Boston. The Archbishop there wanted it done very quickly," said Cleveland Bishop Richard Lennon, who presided over Boston's quick closings in 2004 before he was re-assigned to Cleveland.

"It was very rushed," Bishop Lennon admitted of the process in Boston. "The goal was the whole thing begin and end in one year. It was too quick."

Some Boston churches were closed with four months, with little input from parishioners.

By contrast the process of reconfiguration in Cleveland is nearing two years and has involved parishioners, priests, and representatives of the parishes and clusters.

Still, Cleveland's configuration calls for a reduction of 52 of 224 parishes, or 23 percent. By contrast Boston started with more churches -- 357, and closed more -- 65. But on a percentage basis it was 18 percent, somewhat less than Cleveland.

"He had to go through this process in a short time in Boston," Cleveland Diocese spokesman Bob Tayek says of Bishop Lennon's experience in Boston. "Here, there was a lot of discernment. It wasn't done in a vacuum and all of these folks were involved in trying to make that decision."

Cleveland is not alone in the sometimes wrenching consolidation process. The Diocese of Camden, New Jersey will close nearly half of its 122 churches. Syracuse, New York is in a 10-year process that will close more than 60 churches.

. . . .The Diocese of New Orleans plans to close at least 33 of its 132 current parishes.

"I don't know what the solution could be other than merge parishes or close certain parishes down," says Dr. John Grabowski, noted Cleveland historian of both Case Western Reserve University and the Western Reserve Historical Society.

"The suburban exodus emptied Cleveland," says Grabowski. "We're now looking at a city that borders on 400,000 people and it has a religious infrastructure that looks at a city twice that size."

Grabowski says a large number of churches in Cleveland were built for and by immigrants who came in great waves in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As later generations moved to the suburbs, the massive edifices quickly lost membership.

In Cleveland, Bishop Richard Lennon was asking for understanding of what he called a deep and serious discernment process.

"I sincerely hope that everyone going to Mass now will still be going once this reconfiguration process has been completed," the Bishop said at a Sunday news conference, "and that our evangelization and our outreach will bring even more people into the Church." WKYC

Will it happen here? Where
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