Roamin’ Catholics

Phillis Fuller Clipps, 54, said she knows of 14 former Adalbert members or families who joined Protestant churches, 29 who no longer attend any church and 69 who joined other parishes. Read the RNS story here.


  1. Wonder what will become of the Apostolic Visitation of the Diocese of Cleveland by retired Bishop John M. Smith of Trenton,

    which was requested by Bishop Lennon according to his version of the story,
    or the result of more than 3000 letters to the Vatican according to another version of the story?

    Probably a “promotion” to Rome.

    Wonder if there are enough positions in Rome for all the incompetent bishops around the world, or even from the USA?

    What a fine example the Roman Church is of the Peter Principle, i.e. people get promoted to their level of incompetence.

  2. I guess Bp. Lennon should have just let those 50 churches crumble and collapse on the heads of the minuscule congregations.

    I wish the roamers success in eventually finding a home within their real home, the Church Jesus founded.

    1. I would suggest that we understand “founded” in “the Church Jesus founded” in the sense proposed by Fr. Raymond Brown in his excellent writings on the topic – so that we don’t fall into unhistorical fundamentalism, as if Jesus had a concrete plan for the church and the hierarchy and imparted this to the disciples. The Scriptures show that Jesus said much about the Kingdom of God, but little or nothing about the church and its structures.

    2. 225 souls. Hardly miniscule. I can only imagine the howls if these 225 had been a TLM community. Further, we’re not talking about 50 churches here, we’re talking about St. Adalbert’s, where there was a community with both success and further potential. This WAS their “real home”. And while the diocesan spokesman indicated that displacing this community was something the diocese really “wrestled with” I would suggest they didn’t wrestle with it enough.

      1. “I can only imagine the howls if these 225 had been a TLM community.”

        Had it been a TLM community there would have been howls at FR Z’s and some other blogs maybe. However, I doubt the story would have been picked up here, and if it were, I imagine many of the comments would have emphasized the small size of the community to make a point that nobody wants the Latin Mass and how they are an unimportant minority that nobody should care about anyway.

        I think it unfortunate that this Church closed. 225 does not seem too small to me to support a parish. I live in a part of the county that also has more parishes than are really necessary because of how large and ethnic the Catholic population was 100 years ago, and many of the smaller parishes worry they won’t survive the next round of parish closings regardless of how historic their buildings and how financially stable they are. A decade ago there was a round of parish closings that left many people heartbroken and bitter – often resenting the parishes they were told they should merge with while leaving flowers and wreaths for months on the steps of their former parishes.

      2. Well, I certainly wouldn’t have felt that way. 225 is 225, OF or EF. Yes, it is sad that things change. Change is hard. Change is even sometimes necessary. I just don’t think 225 constitutes the term “miniscule” as used previously. And, at least to me, it becomes an even more difficult situation because we’re talking here the inner-city, where the Church needs to lead, not follow.

      3. In a random sample of all USA congregations, the median congregation (i.e. the one that is exactly half way up or down the list of congregations ordered by size) consists of 75 regular participants (there are many, many small Protestant churches!). Only ten percent of all congregations have more than 400 regular participants. So congregations don’t really have to be large to be viable as congregations. Almost all those very small Protestant Churches have weekly worship including music and a sermon! Talk about literally preaching to the choir!

        Of course most people (not just Catholics) are in large congregations. The median churchgoer (if churchgoers rather than congregations are ranked) is in a congregation with 400 regular churchgoers. The biggest one percent of Protestant churches contains approximately 15% of the people, money and staff. The biggest ten percent contain half of all the people, money, and staff.

        In all the major denominations the trend is toward having larger congregations, and a higher percentage of people in those congregations. Economic forces are probably the cause of this.

        See Mark Chaves new book American Religion: Contemporary Trends (2011) .

  3. We do have to keep in mind that Jesus Christ did not abandon the Church after his public ministry or the ascension, but remaining in their midst by the power of the Holy Spirit guided the apostles in their oral preachings to various communities and those who put into writing, framed with a particular theology and perspective formed the Gospels over the course of several decades ending up finally with John’s Gospel which is the most highly developed theologically. Jesus is not a dead hero from the past but a living Savior as much of if not more of a part of the Church that he began in small, mustard seed ways after his incarnation, but stop to think about it, that mustard seed goes back to Abraham and his descendants too. I think Fr. Raymond Brown would fully embrace the presence of Christ in this most unique way in every epoch of the Church and her future development including our own day and under the parameters that have been revealed to us in Sacred Scripture and Tradition.

  4. “let those 50 churches crumble and collapse on the heads of the minuscule congregations.”

    This sounds very much like the business oriented attitude that has gotten Bishop Lennon and the Diocese of Cleveland into such deep trouble.

    He is seen as primarily preoccupied with money, that parish buildings are only important in terms of money, and that the people are well “minuscule.”

    How apt the word minuscule is since Lennon is infamous for his appearance in a PBS documentary on sexual abuse ejecting its author from the Boston Chancery grounds calling the author a “sad little man.” Lennon is rather tall. His demeanor in dealing with people even caused one woman to tape record their conversation.

    Mike O’Malley’s article gets at the heart of the problem, the inability of the diocese, especially the bishop, to deal with people on a very personal level. Moreover, O’Malley exposes the problem by focusing upon the people rather than the diocese or its bishop. In other words O’Malley does not fall into the trap of behaving like the diocese.

    Great journalism! It deserves to be posted on this blog.

    1. I hear you Jack but then there are others who have had dealings with him and they have been very positive. The woman who smuggled a digital recorder into a meeting that the bishop was gracious enough to offer and then gave the recording to a television station so that they could release it for ratings was most disingenuous. Not only that, there was nothing the bishop said in that cowardly-produced story that was in the least bit questionable.

      Similarly the context of the Frontline excerpt is unknown. What was the previous history between the chancery and the amateur documentary film maker? We don’t know. The graphic used in the documentary ([hopefully] unconsecrated host floating in a puddle) was a cheap low blow. Thus we can’t assume that its maker had a proper orientation to justice and the truth with regard to his subject.

      With regard to the former pastor mentioned in the story ask some of the other pastors and PLA’s in the cluster if he ever dealt in good faith with the process from the very beginning of VPL and if he could have done a much better job preparing his parishioners rather than turning himself into a martyr for their cause which could have been better aliviated by working through the VPL process as conscientiously as did others in his area.

      1. Jim,

        The point (mine and that of O Malley) is that it is about the people.

        It is not about Lennon, or the pastor of the parish, or the woman who spoke with Lennon, or the person who made the Frontline story.

        And my point is that behind the neglect of the people is worship of money (along with status and power) but mostly money.

        I have seen that everywhere in life, in higher education, in public health, and in the church.

      2. “ask… if he ever dealt in good faith with the process from the very beginning ”

        How does one deal in good faith with a decision imposed from above that one entirely disagrees with as unneeded and wrong headed?

        I guess a lot of people will be in that situation come the first Sunday of Advent.

      3. Jim – you are in a state of denial on the Frontline story. It does not matter WHAT the history is. Mr. Lennon looked at a man who brother was sexually abused and told him, “its all in your head.” Even if there was “previous history” when did “an eye for an eye” become the normal for a guy who is supposedly so loving? Not the Catholic church I know. I know your loyalties lie with the magisteriam but get real. You can spin it how you want, but the film maker did have proper orientation. If you are telling us the truth, then every story for you must not have the “proper orientation.” Or is it just the ones you don’t like?

  5. The question that is not being asked is this:

    “How can we keep the flame of faith alive in these communities?”

    In cases where parishes are clustering, there is a lot of merit in having the pastor live in one of the smaller parishes, not the largest one. Yes, it may cause some practical problems (but these can always be solved — you just have to want to sufficiently), but think of the message it gives to those smaller communities: you really have value, since the pastor is living in your midst.

    I live in a diocese where there have been comparatively few church closures. By transforming clergy into a team ministry (something that old-style pastors resist), it is in fact possible to service the smaller communities more effectively without having to close them down.

    1. There are many creative solutions to this problem, e.g. making a virtue out of “roamin”

      People who are engaged in small but vital ministries, e.g. ethnic, or social ministries in poor neighborhoods, etc. could be encouraged (or decide themselves) to “roam” from parish to parish, recruiting people to help them sustain their ministries.

      Hopefully many parishes would support such endeavors and provide space for meeting with these “pilgrims”, social gatherings after Mass, etc.

      These people would function as “private associations” more than parishes. American Grace indicates that while Church attendance has extensive benefits, they only occur if the people who attend are involved with religious networks of family members, friends, and small groups. These private associations could preserve (and expand) the social networks that existed in the old parish while merely changing the location for Mass from Sunday to Sunday. It would alleviate the difficult problem of breaking up old social networks and integrating people into new social networks.

      “Roamin” private associations could provide valuable services to many parishes, and need not result only from parish closures. There are many ministries that need multiple parishes to have a sufficient number of people, or which service cities or counties that contain more than one parish. The V2 Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity envisions associations at least as much as parishes as being the locus of the activities of the laity. The small group and networks vision contained in the Decree is very much in accord with the emerging research on the value of religious networks.

      From the days before Vatican II when my missal contained the Stational Churches for feast days, I have liked the notion of going to Mass at different churches on different feasts. More dioceses are emphasizing collaborative projects among parish clusters and membership in the diocesan church as the local church.

  6. There have been and are very successful diocesan realignments that do not focus primarily on parish suppressions and closures (Paul’s comments are illuminating).

    Here is an “informal” study of the Boston archdiocesan closures:

    You will note that informally this study supports the points that Jack has made. There were a number of parish suppressions in which the internal diocesan board actually ranked the “closing” parish as financially viable; growing; etc. but the property was very valuable and could easily be sold and translated into ready cash.

    Note that there were some “good” principles observed:
    – every city and town preserved a parish or kept a church open on week-ends

    But, note that the highest number of suppressed churches were built in the 20th century (so much for decaying buildings) esp. built to VII standards; ethnic parishes; and parishes that were in the lowest economic percentiles. Try reading some of the study through the lense of catholic social teaching.

    Lennon was the auxiliary bishop under O’Malley in charge of this process. He doesn’t seem to have learned much from Boston’s pain.

    1. “But, note that the highest number of suppressed churches were built in the 20th century (so much for decaying buildings) esp. built to VII standards”

      I imagine this is partly because older churches are seen as historically important by many people (not only Catholics, but by the community as a whole – they are cherished neighborhood landmarks), and often considered to be of greater artistic merit.

      1. Exactly and my point – focus should be on the viable community; the people; their organizations, outreach, etc. Not the buildings – the church is not a museum. (Realize that reality means that some buildings are designated as national interests and rules apply to maintaining them – doubt this applies to more than 5% of the buildins being considered and there are creative ways of dealing with these situations)
        Also, we need to define and clarify between “merging” and “suppression”
        – merging parishes; clustering priests to serve multiple church locations preserves the communities finances, savings, history, traditions
        – suppression is by the bishop and allows the bishop to take everything – money, buildings, property, etc.

    2. Lennon was more than an auxiliary bishop; he was Administrator between Law and O’Malley and therefore in a position to have had a large influence on the parish consolidation in Boston.

      In both Boston and Cleveland the use of suppression rather than merger of parishes, the number of parishes, and specific choices about parishes raise questions about the diocesan financial motives.

      On this Labor Day we need to recognize that all wealth, – money, buildings (churches) or social institutions (parishes) – is accumulated labor, the labor of the people who built those parishes.

      Canon law has been very reluctant to suppress parishes (social capital) and convert buildings (churches) to secular uses except in extreme cases. These connect us with past generations, indeed they are made sacred with the presence of their labor among us.

      The Diocese of Cleveland not only has many expensive, wealthy suburban churches, those campuses are full of buildings (not just churches and schools). But suburban parishes and their pastors feel little responsibility for poorer parishes except for a few token gestures. Some priests felt that city parishes should have been done away with a long time ago in the name of corporate efficiency.

      But, these suburban parishes, wealthy in terms of buildings and staff, have been mediocre in performance as parishes!

      The “Vibrant” Parish Life study showed that their liturgies were rated half way the list of things being well done; as were their scores on several measures of community. It is not that the people did not value liturgy (it was first in importance) or community (it was second in importance). The parish management, despite all its buildings and staff, has failed to deliver on these vital indicators.

      Now, stewardship appeals seek more and more money from fewer and few people. While liturgy and community languish, people find other things to do on Sunday morning. More money will not “save” us.

      1. Well summarized, Jack. That is why what Lennon is doing and some like him is a new trend in church history (suppression); your point about mediocre suburban parishes; and the need for inner city presence and outreach.

        Mergers are hard work – notice that some pastors object because their way of pastoring needs to change but they are comfortable with large buildings and the concept of living in a shared rectory/apartment building with other pastors/administrators and driving to the community is not attractive. The fact that heavy sacrament use in suppressed parishes compared to very litte sacrament use in parishes that were kept open is another piece that you see little written about or talked about.

  7. Yes, I’ve read “Render Unto Rome,” and know the theories expressed therein.

    Back to Jack’s point, a parent who works two jobs to feed his/her family is not guilt of “worshiping money.”

    As I recall a few days ago there were a number of comments around the topic of Labor Day which proposed that the church is not very good about compensating it’s workers fairly. And yet without adequate inflows there is actually no way that the church can compensate it’s workers as it would like. On the other hand, it’s an open market, and if someone is not happy with her/his job, they can look elsewhere.

    The church . . . among many, many more important things . . . is indeed a business. It’s sad, but the rules of law and commerce apply to the church as to any other entity. Fiscal controls and oversight applies to the church as to any other corporate person.

    A bishop who is a conscientious steward is not automatically a “worshiper” of money.

  8. The plight of the parishioners of St. Adalbert’s underscores a desperate need to devolve some financial decisions to parishes.

    The sex abuse crisis has made clear that the money, and not the parishioners and their churches, are the real prize. Time, then, that vestries/parish councils have a right of at least one veto or stay until the parish can develop its own financial and pastoral rescue plan for the parish. 225 parishioners might not be able to sustain a large church, especially if it is in need of repair. Still, the parishioners and their representatives should make the first case for the continuance of the parish. I would hope that episcopal arrogance and financial shortsightedness would change into a level of cooperation.

    I must agree with many PTB contributors that the missal transition requires pastoral sensitvity. In situations of displacement, such as the eviction of the St. Adalbert’s parishioners, the parishioners should find a place with a level of continuity with their manner of worship. If that means holding on to the Sacramentary or other older liturgical texts, then that should be part of the accommodation.

  9. One alternative that I think hasn’t been considered is to share a building with another congregation in the same neighborhood. Note I said congregation, not parish. Set aside a room to serve as a Eucharistic chapel, and schedule services and Masses so they don’t conflict. This would allow communities to remain intact and two groups to split the costs of maintenance, secretary, etc. Of course, it doesn’t address the problem of the lack of priests, but people in my diocese have been assured repeatedly that that is not why our parishes are being closed.

    1. A great idea. All dioceses might find working more closely with Orthodox, Anglicans,Lutherans, and maybe other churches in the area, not only creates a shared liturgical space, a shared facility for charitable outreach, but it also allows the churches to share the cost too. So, there are significant savings here.

      Apart from building a united Christian witness, from a more practical standpoint, it could save the diocese a ton of money , especially at a time more and more demands are being made upon the bishop’s checkbook by lawyers and their clients.

  10. Taking a deeper look at the Priest shortage and the need to shuffle around Priests which also leads to closings needs to be done. If so many Priests were not ejected or rejected from Seminary because of their Traditional inclinations or values perhaps some Dioceases would not have quite the shortage they do. How many good future Priests were not allowed to follow their calling because of this mindset we will never know exactly, but personal accounts about in many books and articles written on the subject.

    1. Mitch, Do you know for certain seminarians were rejected by seminaries because of “traditional inclinations”? I keep coming across this charge in some traditional Catholic blogs, but I never see any data to support this allegation.

      1. Where there is smoke you will usually find fire. Do you know for certain that none were rejected for traditional inclinations? Has every head of Seminary issued a statement that this was never done or never the practice in their Seminary? If you keep coming accross this “charge” why not entertain the possibility and investigate it to satisfy your own concerns. I have done so and am satisfied with what I have read and tend to believe that this some fact. We are all free to evaluate what we read, whether trational blogs or liberal ones and express out own personal opinion on the matter. So much is thrown around here on this blog without “data” to support progressive agendas so why not simply see my point as one with the opposing point of view?

    2. Mitch, that sounds like a warm over of the specious claims of “Good Bye, Good Men,” which is replete with anecdotes but contains very little hard data. Never having been on the formation faculty I really don’t know for certain but I suspect that lifestyle issues are much more responsible for a “not recommended for orders” decision than where a seminarian falls on the traditional-progressive spectrum. Also issues such as how a seminarian interacts pastorally, how he relates to authority, how he relates to women, would be given more credence than the trad-prog issue. We’ve ordained some very traditional priests but they are very hard-working, effective and well-loved. True, I am aware that many of those who did not make the cut were trads, but I think the decisions were made not due to ecclesiology but on the basis of life style problems.

      1. I don’t frequent the blog everyday. As the above post points out a point of view, as not having sat on Seminary faculities am I not free to express the opposing opinion? Why mention me?

  11. It really frustrates me that more Catholics don’t speak more directly about the principal reason for the suppression and merging of parishes. While there are other factors, the refusal of the pope and the bishops to adjust the requirements for priestly ordination to supply priests to all viable parish communities. Christ’s faithful have a right to sacramental sustenance within communities that nurture and build up their faith. If we are unable to draw sufficient men who are called to both celibacy and priestly ministry, then we have no option but to qualify those who have both a call to marriage and priestly ministry. This has nothing to do with what hierarchs prefer, nor should it have anything to do with eloquent arguments about the privileged place of celibate witness in Catholic tradition. If viable parish communities need priests, the local bishop should be free to ordain qualified and properly trained candidates regardless of their marital status. I find it infuriating at times to see Catholics endure the closing of their parishes because the bishop says “I have no priest to send.” Many bishops say this when they personally believe that many married men could be qualified to serve if the pope would let him do it. So, the successor of (the married) Peter reigns over a church that in many places is going out of business so the praises of celibacy can continue to be sung. Such a shame.

  12. “Cleveland Catholic Diocese spokesman Robert Tayek said the diocese was concerned that the roamers are not registered with particular parishes because in the event of a death, there could be complications over where the funeral would be held.”

    Fire this man. Now.

    1. After I read that part, all I could say is, Wow. Of course, I suppose we should remember that he only says what he is told to say. But still. Wow.

    2. When a parish is suppressed, the diocese takes its assets and the people are basically told they have to find a new parish;

      when parishes are merged the assets stay with the merged parish and of course so do the people unless they choose to go elsewhere.

  13. Every time I hear about inner-city parishes closing due to a lack of membership, I wonder what happened to preaching the Gospel to the unchurched. It’s not that there aren’t any people in those neighborhoods, just not Catholics.

    What if the Jesuit missionaries who showed up in St. Louis in the 18th and 19th centuries had said, “Just a bunch of Indians around here, couldn’t find any Catholics, let’s move on!”

  14. It’s not about the people. This sad old Church revolves more and more exclusively around priests.

    No priests. No party.

    And certainly we have no creative response from our backwards-looking bishops.

    In the end, they will just set up monstrances and let people sit/kneel and stare.

    The scandalous inability to feed almost all those attending the final Mass at WYD has been heralded by the pope’s spokesman as something positive — teaching about spiritual communion. Not much like the man with the loaves and the fishes.

    And Papa munched away on “Father’s Host”, devouring every bit of it in about four bites. A less obtuse pastor would have taken but a fraction and SHARED the rest to allow at least several others to have a chance to receive communion.

    All talk about charity. But no clue.

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