St. Peter’s in Cleveland breaks with Bishop

Parishioners of St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Cleveland, which was slated for closing, have broken with their Bishop and started their own faith community. This tragic story is more directly about ecclesiology (= plain ol’ politics) than it is about liturgy. The story certainly reflects how much the authority of the hierarchy is diminished in our day. Saints and martyrs have given their lives for the the cause of communion with the successor of Peter. Such ideals don’t seem to have much traction any more, not even among devout Catholics (including, if the photo is an indication, Catholics old enough to be formed in the preconciliar Church).

And this brings us to liturgy. How well will it work for the hierarchy to impose unpopular liturgical reforms upon the Catholic laity? The new translation, for example?

I wonder if they’re planning to use the new missal at St. Peter’s in Cleveland. Should PrayTell check into it??



  1. +JMJ+

    This makes me think of a very recent post. I wonder if they will be an independent home grown, enculturated Church, living in its own sensus fidelium and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Will they seek to retain communion with the local diocese, but be independent of them? (I would expect any of the parishioners would receive Communion in any other Catholic parish in the diocese.)

    As far as receptivity to the liturgy imposed upon them by Rome and their diocese, I don’t think they’ll pay much heed. For what it’s worth, it looks like the EMHCs are receiving Communion in the manner of concelebrants. I could be mistaken, but then again, I suppose they are concelebrants. That’s their own sensus fidelium.

  2. What I find fascinating about some of these breakaway communities is that they seem to draw greater numbers unfettered from the Roman institution. That breakaway parish in St Louis has seen attendance jump 250% in the past few years, despite the departure of many original parishioners. Granted those kinds of numbers may be attributed to other factors, mainly being a regional attraction for dissent, rather than a neighborhood phenomenon.

    And yet, it’s not unlike the following generated by the 1570/1962 Missal. Only that schismatics seem to be attracting more churchgoers.

  3. Doesn’t look like they’ve received the Church’s liturgical norms to this point anyway.

    If this is what Robert B. Kaiser’s autochthonous Church would look like – no thanks.

  4. This is actually incredibly sad. I would never dissent a Bishop’s action or inaction, especially based on a news article’s reporting, but this seems like the type of thing that could have been prevented by a personal visit, rather than a letter.

    I wonder what, prior to the priest coming onboard, the actual worship was like? Surely no-one would have the audacity to “celebrate Mass”? Simply a LOTW?

    Now that the priest has come forward to care for this community, it raised another question– what, juridically, does the Bishop have the authority to do, with regards this priest? Surely one can’t be placed under interdict or excommunicated, simply for offering a Mass to Catholics, in order to fulfill their Sunday obligation?

    The article, for me, raises more questions than it supplies answers. Fr. Ruff, I wonder whether you might continue posting information on this parish as it becomes available?

  5. These Cleveland Catholics have taken the initiative to keep their own faith community alive and functioning. What they have done, the courage they have shown, and their refusal to let their congregation disappear should act as a warning to Church hierarchy. They are not dissenters from their faith but an example of faith that overcomes all obstacles. They are the kind of committed Catholics that most of us aren’t. Were this to occur more often it could do much to restore and enliven the Church, not harm it. The Church needs to understand what has happened and why, and then respond in a positive and conciliatory way.

    1. This Cleveland parish may not need bishop Lennon.
      An autocephalous parish? Perhaps, they will want to seek communion with the Antiochene Orthodox, the Evangelical Orthodox Catholic church, the western rite of RUCOR, or the Romanian Orthodox Church of Paris with its 6th century liturgy of St. Germanus, or there’s always the OCA?

      How about the TAC (Traditional Anglican Church) which rejected joining the Odinariate the other day.

      The list of unaffiliated churches seems endless and growing. Symptomatic of Catholics perfectly comfortable with mixing and matching liturgy and theology. A little here and a little there. There’s always a body of believers ready to accept you into their midst.

      This being the case, I wonder if the USCCB and the Vatican fully appreciate this phenomenon, and have a way to come to deal with it with more imagination than they’ve shown in so many areas to date, short of casting anathemas and excommunications.

  6. I’m trying to imagine Archbisop Raymond Burke’s pastoral response to this situation (which is not unknown in a diocese that he formerly served). “Squelch them! Do it now!”

    1. Burke’s strong Signatura decision against the parishes in Boston may have contributed to this local break.

      Many in Cleveland may be hoping Lennon will be “promoted” to Rome, just like Burke and Law. Wonder how many positions are available over there for “failed” American bishops?

  7. See this particular parish in the context of the 50 parish closings which were previously posted, and the Boston closings, and closings elsewhere.

    Recognize the real depth of anger of these people who have lost their churches. For those of you who feel and express the deep anger and a deep pain of the lost of some of the aspects of the pre Vatican II church, multiple that many, many times. People in Boston now have occupied some of the parish churches for years! Many little people have put a great deal of time and their own money into fighting their parish closings

    To get a sense of that anger, read the blog of a person who considers himself a true traditionalist and who compares Lennon to Lenin.

    The structure of the opposition to the closings in this diocese is modeled on that in Boston. It is very, very loose and hence unpredictable. The form and tactics vary greatly from parish to parish because all the parishes are different. Many different things have gone on behind the scenes in regard to different parishes.

    See this situation in light of the recent Signatura decision about the Boston churches which basically says a bishop can do whatever he wants. These people don’t see themselves as abandoning Rome; they see Rome abandoning them.

    The 50 parishes are not liberals but may become liberal if backed into a corner.

    Rome should be more concerned about a substantial schism developing.

    1. +JMJ+

      I am deeply grieved upon reading about the actions and attitude of their bishop. I don’t know the pain those parishioners are going through, but I can tell it hurts them greatly to be overlooked by a pastor who is, by all indications, being as unpastoral as possible. 🙁

  8. This situation is very like the case in Thiberville in France where a bishop tried to suppress, and may yet, succeed in suppressing, one of the very few thriving parishes in his diocese. Of course, it offered the TLM… I’m sure few here will leap to those parishioners defence. No, it goes against the desired narrative….

    1. Ceile, contrary to your expressed beliefs, I’d like to hear more about this parish. Could you post a link? I did do a google search, but only found articles clearly written for those who already knew all about it!

    2. I think accusing anyone of filtering everything through a “desired narrative” is quite unfair.

  9. I am glad to admit, Kimberly and Chris, that I am wrong and apologise accordingly.

    Most of what I found is in French but here are some links: the video footage is quite shocking no matter one’s views.

    Apologies in advance if some of the websites or comments thereon are not welcome here – I am simply googling looking for links to the story – I am not advocating or otherwise commenting on comments there. Damian Thompson, in particular, used inflammatory language but his post, filtered through his inimitable lens, sets out the basic bones of the story.

    As far as I am aware, so far, the Vatican has backed the authority of the bishop.

  10. Christians organize and start their own faith communities all the time. Around here (SW Florida) new Churches pop up in Malls and storefronts almost weekly. What I would ask is “How is this different” and “Why is this news”?

    1. JH – I think this is different because it is Roman Catholics, including their priest. That doesn’t happen very often at all, so that makes this newsworthy (and tragic, I hasten to add.).

      1. Maybe I’m missing something then… are they “breaking away from the Church” (no longer Catholic) and starting a new “church”, or are they just moving to another building because theirs is being closed? There are plenty of Catholics who have broken away from the Church and started new Churches. It seems that they are claiming to be a “faith community” founded on basic Catholic principles, not a Catholic Church per se. but a Catholic-like Church.

        My concern about this would be that this may be something that happens more and more often to particular groups who feel that they are at odds with the Church on a variety of issues. Rather than continuing to work within the Church, they will strike out on their own and form distinct “Catholic-like” Churches…

        There are already the Woman-Priest Churches and the “American Catholic Church” in this vein. Will more follow as the atmospher becomes less hospitable to dissenting beliefs? I ask because there have been quite a few stories lately about this parish or that parish “breaking with the diocese” and becoming independent. There is the situation in Ireland right now in which some are suggesting the same tactic on a larger scale (Independence from Rome’s authority while maintaining “communion” with the Roman Church…).

        Is this a growing trend now?

    2. The extensive news coverage of the local church closings as well as this event have occurred despite the editorial position of the Plain Dealer which has been sympathetic to the bishop’s need to downsize and reconfigure parishes.

      The extensive news coverage has occurred in part because of the many historic and ethic parishes that have been closed and in part because the new bishop has not done a very good job of stepping into the retired bishop’s shoes. The retired bishop was know for his Church in the City initiative which attempted to twin suburban and urban parishes, and his Vibrant Parish Life initiative which was aimed at consolidating parishes in the most humane way possible. The new guy gives the impression of being an administrator interested in money.

      The retired bishop lost a lot of creditability in his last years because of the sexual abuse scandal and a diocesan financial scandal but the PD reporting did not really cover the situation very well in comparison to what the Boston Globe did with Law.

      At the bottom of the news story are PD photographer pictures of the “construction” of the new altar which means the PD staff knew weeks ahead of time that this was likely to happen. That says a lot about grass roots sympathy for the plight of the parishes despite the sympathies of their bosses upstairs for the bishop as a manager.

  11. The narratives shared on this blog have generally been from the perspectives of those hurt by the closure. Can anyone share any narrative from the perspective of the Bishop? This would help create a more balanced understanding of the situation.

    Was it St Ignatius of Antioch who said that only the Eucharist celebrated under the authority of the Bishop is proper? While I know the feelings of hurt, betrayal, being letdown must be great and a great suffering for many of the people involved, but something must be amiss if Catholics are so willing to beat their own drums apart from the Bishop. To celebrate the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Unity, apart from the Bishop is such a disfiguration to the Sacrament, and painful too to the whole communion of the Church. I’ll remember to pray for these people and their Bishop in this trying times for them, for their unity, charity and fidelity to the Lord.

    1. One of the frequent issues in problems like this is that the bishop says little, makes no appearance, sends a hatchet-man from the chancery to tell the parishoners in a fait-accompli meeting that they will be closed down/merged. There is often no lead-up discussion, such as, “You need to increase income by 30% in five years or we will not be able to cover the amount that you are in the red. How can we help you to do that?”

      Now I’m not in favor of the response of some of the parishoners, but their anger may be completely understandable.

      1. Ioannes;

        In some situations there are just such meetings. I was one of our parish representatives at the (now infamous) parish “cluster meetings” (you can imagine what nick-name emerged from those gatherings…) in the Archdiocese of Boston in 1998-2000. During these meetings each “cluster” of parishes was asked to take a thorough look at their resources and make recommendations to the Diocese about possible actions, including parish merging, parish closings, restructuring, etc…

        Unfortunately it was clear to everyone, except the representatives from those parishes, which parishes needed to be closed or merged. It should have been obvious to those parishes 15 or 20 years prior… some had barely enough parishioners remaining to have 1 Mass on Sunday morning that would fill half of the Church. There was a particular parish in town (there were 9 Catholic Churches in this particular town) that had less than 100 parishioners remaining. While it is sad to have to close parishes, it is sometimes necessary when the local Catholic demographic “moves on” as they say….

        Not an excuse for some of what has occured around the country, but I often wonder if some of the outrage and surprise expressed by parishioners is genuine. Did they not know that they can’t support a physical facility with 4 buildings on 6 acres in the middle of an urban area with a weekly collection of 2500 dollars? DO they think (as some people actually said to me) that Rome will cover the difference?

  12. Just what is a Bishop to do when the enrolled members of a parish drop to 270, virtually all over age 60, many in subsidized housing for the elderly? That’s the case of just one inner-city parish in my archdiocese.

    Their children, if they had any, have moved to the suburbs or different states or left the Church.

    Who will pay the utility bills and the roof repair costs?

    In many older cities, like Cleveland, ethnic parishes were the rule and you could see Irish, Polish Italian, German and various Eastern European nationality parishes, all within a few blocks of each other. Most of those people are gone and nobody is left to attend and support those parishes.

    1. I realize that I am probably terribly naive, but don’t these neighborhood have some people living in them? And aren’t at least some of those people unchurched? Why are such situations not seen as an occasion for evangelism? I realize that there are shortages of priests, but why couldn’t teams of lay people, trained and financially supported by a diocese, be missioned to such parishes in order to reach out to the people who do live in the neighborhood, as well as to help the people already in the parish to assimilate new comers, who may be of a different racial/ethnic background?

      1. I like this idea and hey maybe it would even help encourage those called to serve in vowed and ordained ministry.

      2. Cleveland’s Church in the City program was intended to bring parish resources from the suburbs back into the city. It was conducted on the parish level. Some parishes did collaborate in soup kitchens, etc. But the reality is that most suburban parishes have little missionary spirit. They are totally absorbed in their own thing, building extensive parish plants and expanding their staffs.

        The diocese did not do much in terms of raising money for this initiative. It left much to grassroots efforts. It was not really a priority, only something extra.

        The same thing happens with regard to Catholic education. The attitude of the diocese is that it is up to the parishes individually and collectively to raise money for Catholic education rather than a diocesan responsibility. They simply monitor schools and close them when they judge they are not longer viable.

        Good old fashioned passing the buck around.

        No rules like: “Yes you can have a new larger church in the suburb but you also have to repair the roof on one of the beautiful but poorly attended churches downtown or you have to support an inner city school.”

        St Peters raised money. Its problem: too close to the Cathedral, a competitor to the bishop. The ethic churches not only raised money but also their own priests from Europe.

        Power, control of money, responsibility are key issues. Not pretty politics are involved, and not liberal nor conservative politics.

  13. Well said, Jack. See the same phenomenon in Dallas, Texas except the numbers continue to spiral up given the large influx of Hispanics. But, the day will come. You raise some good questions and dynamics – in Dallas, certain parishes were mandated to pay a five year tax to support the building and on-going running of a catholic high school. Reality – there are two diocesan high schools currently and four private catholic high schools. In addition, this specifc school is located in an excellent public school district. So, we in those parishes pay the tax; send our children to the other private catholic high schools (we live one block from one of them) and the other goes across town to the current catholic high school. So, we pay twice – why? This new school is located in a upper middle class neighborhood and has less than 50% of the projected students 3 years after opening. Meanwhile, we have elementary schools that are all but closing because the diocese uses what you stated – each parish is responsible. These are schools in lower income brackets and where education is dearly needed given the condition of the DISD. The bishop never talks about your point – we are called to support each other. Instead, each parish builds up their own buildings, plants, etc. Used to stress adopting a parish but this is no longer emphasized. You hit the nail on the head – it is passing the buck. That school financially was not built for years because of the sex abuse settlement

  14. Yes I would for you to check into it. I think they will stick with the 1973 version. It will be interesting. Or will they go with the new? Or will they revert back to the Extraordinary Form? Keep us posted. It will also be interesting to see if, and when, the new translations is imposed how many will use it.

  15. Carl, when the new translation comes out, everyone will use it. There will be some grumbling, but the huge majority of Catholics don’t get involved in issues like this. At some point in the future, this will be the only translation that people know. If a priest decides on his own not to use it, he will likely be reprimanded by his bishop.

  16. Regina Brett, a columnist for the Plain Dealer and a member of St. Peter’s parish, brings a balanced view to the issues in today’s Plain Dealer

    St. Peter split from diocese symbolizes defining moment for all Catholics: by Regina Brett

    “There is nothing on this earth so ugly as the Catholic Church, and nothing so beautiful.”

    If you don’t like that sentiment, blame Cardinal John Henry Newman. He wrote that in a letter and he’s still expected to be canonized as a saint.

    Read the rest here (within the column is also a link to the Bishop’s letter on the topic)

  17. Plain Dealer Reports

    Priest, trustees from breakaway St. Peter’s parish willing to meet with Bishop Lennon

    On Sunday, following another standing-room-only Mass, plus a baptism, in the new space, Marrone told the congregation that he sent a letter to Lennon on Friday, saying he agreed to the meeting, but requested it include the community’s nine-member board of trustees.

    “It is not an issue between myself and the diocese,” Marrone told Sunday’s gathering. “The existence of this community is not just my doing.”

    Complete Plain Dealer Report Sunday, August 22, 2010, 6:15 PM

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