Cleveland Breakaway

It seems that church leaders traditionally bungle schisms, breakaways, splits, and other fractures of Church unity. I notice that a  Cleveland parish has emerged outside of a bishop’s authority. Not for reasons of theology (women’s ordination, same-sex Catholics, or even the MR3) but over an accusation of poor governance. Interesting approach, this. In Boston they fight like hell over the buildings. For St Peter’s, it’s about the faith community itself. St Peter’s parishioners were forced out of the impressive structure on the left (credit: Cleveland Plain Dealer) to celebrate Mass in a warehouse.

Father Robert Marrone, pastor:

Here, enlightened by Christ . . . we can renew our dedication to the traditions of our faith which we hold as precious. Today is a day for action, not reaction; imagination, not fear.

I know it has not been an easy journey for you as it has not been an easy journey for me. But standing here today, I am filled with gratitude, peace and confidence.

Things have to get really bad for this kind of thing to happen. I don’t hear good things about Bishop Lennon from pretty much anybody. So this split indeed seems to be more about politics than anything else.

Meanwhile, a rebellious St Louis parish finds its membership swells, as its pastor welcomes progressive ideas. This tale is a lot more curious to me. What started out as a fight over buildings seems to have been spiced up by a renegade priest promoting women’s ordination and some kind of shift in the makeup of the community. But at its root is a lingering lack of trust in the institution, as evidenced by one parishioner’s comment:

I don’t trust the archdiocese. I’ve witnessed how it’s closed other parishes. All they needed to do was bring somebody down to speak — instead they sent lawyers.

Instead of sending a speaker (let alone a listener), Archbishop Burke sent lawyers. He might be an expert in canon law, but he seems decidedly secular and certainly naive about being a shepherd. Probably why he’s in Rome and not St Louis. Or New York.

I also lack trust in certain things.  Charismatic leaders who attract followers, and make the movement about people and personalities, rather than the higher things. On the other hand, the sacraments are a substantial source of nourishment for a community. I don’t mean to belittle the efforts of Boston Catholics. For many of them, I’m sure it’s about more than the buildings. I suspect that if a priest had been willing to stand with any of the parishes, it would have looked a lot like St Peter’s, Cleveland.

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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10 Responses to Cleveland Breakaway

  1. Jimmy Mac says:

    More and more the pew potatoes are starting to awaken. This church had better wonder what will happen when a lot more of them do. A parish can exist and meet anywhere; let the diocese keep title to the properties. Own a lot, minister to a diminishing number.

  2. FrMichael says:

    Another hell-bound priest leading his flock astray.

    I’m sure that Bishop Lennon did the same capricious hatchet job as he did in Boston– and thus the parishioners’ anger is justified– but this is a classic example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    A priest of integrity would have warned the parishioners that excommunication is almost a certainty. He would have also have warned them that the idea of a “Catholic” church not in communion with Rome and the local ordinary violates apostolic Tradition and canon law alike, such that parishioners could make an informed decision. Unfortunately there seems to be no indication here that said priest is a man of integrity.

  3. Jimmy Mac says:

    The idea that the Catholic Church can dictate who and who is not “hell-bound” is just part of the petulant arrogance so common therein these days.

  4. Mike says:

    What Jimmy Mac said. I’ll go further: any priest who says another is “hell bound” is someone I wouldn’t let within a mile of anyone I cared about.

  5. FrMichael says:

    Jimmy Mac– try reading Matthew 16.

    Mike– The comment “Hell bound” isn’t an ontological truth set in stone for all eternity. I certainly hope that this unfaithful priest– who is a wolf in shepherd’s clothing– repents of his grave sin and tries by word and deed to lead his flock back into God’s One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. But what he is done, barring some publicly unknown mental illness, is clearly a formal mortal sin. As a priest, he has the full knowledge of what a serious matter schism is. All that isn’t publicly known is his full consent. Haven’t seen any allegations from either side that the man lacks the use of reason, so it is safe to assume that the man can exhibit free consent of the will.

    1) grave matter
    2) full knowledge
    3) consent of a free will

    equals mortal sin. QED

  6. Bill Kurtz says:

    This is an honest question for Fr. Michael, not a rhetorical one. If the Cleveland parishioners, as you say, were victims of a “capricious hatchet job” and their anger is justified, how should they respond?
    By the way, I wouldn’t have gone off to a new church, either.

  7. Jimmy Mac says:

    The Catholic Church arrogates to itself much more authority than any reading of Scripture can remotely justify when it comes to who and who is not “hell bound.”

  8. FrMichael says:

    Jimmy Mac, if Matthew 16 and 18 doesn’t float your boat, how about passages on milstones around necks? How about St. Paul on the divisions existing in the churches during his travels? Plus the Patristic witness, from St. Ignatius of Antioch onward.

  9. FrMichael says:

    Mr. Kurtz:

    Unfortunately, with the recent canonical decision from Rome basically making the parish closing veto-proof, there is not a lot that can be done to reverse the decision. There is, however, a lot that can be done to heep burning coals upon Bishop Lennon and his ilk so that they look like fools to the other priests and bishops. As priests and bishops are sensitive to peer pressure, this might cause them to hesitate in the future to make a similar decision. In no particular order other than #1, my list:

    1) Don’t be kooks. Unfortunately, this particular congregation has already broken this one by their undeclared schism. Their pastor Fr. Hamlet hasn’t helped either.

    2) Bring the facts to the public. Might be a bit late now for this particular parish, but publicize the parish finances, assuming a parish is financially solvent. Let the public know that the only reason the parish is closing is because of the bishop.

    3) Offer reasonable compromises and work with what you have now. If you have 700 total attendance at three Sunday Masses at a church that seats 800, it is time to say goodbye to two of those Masses. It is not reasonable to think that a parish that small will have a dedicated priest to itself. So be glad when your priest is twinned with another parish. Be good to him and he will let his superiors know (see point 5 on gossip) how excellent the arrangement is working. Believe me, I have had responsibility for multiple parishes and missions and the part that wears the most isn’t the traveling, it is the unreasonable expectations of parishioners. There are a lot of simple things parishioners in these situations can do to make life great for their priest. My best time in the priesthood was a pastoral situation where I was responsible for multiple parishes and missions: they were the most tiring but the most rewarding years of my life. I could have continued in that type of ministry indefinitely.

    4) Shame. Organize a prayer group to pray outside the bishop’s residence and the chancery now and then. Warning: see #1– no kooks. Pray the Rosary and Chaplet of Divine Mercy. No prayers to Gaia or inflammatory signs. Angry parisioners need to stay home. Let your local TV and radio stations know: you make compelling filler.

    5) Be a blessing to your new parishes. Believe you me, priests are gossips. If the scattered parishioners get involved in their new parishes and let the powers-that-be (i.e. the pastor) know where they are from, other priests in the area and the chancery rats will get wind of it. Be sure to couple your good works with expressions of regret for the suppressed parish. In a matter of months this will work its way up to the episcopal level and all will know that a mistake has been made. I have actually witnessed this. Didn’t save the suppressed parish, but I haven’t seen any others suppressed since even though there is a good deal of hanging low fruit in the diocese.

    6) Enjoy your new parish and work to improve it. I have spent most of my priesthood in parishes which were reputed to be “bad” or “difficult” parishes. Better to light a candle than curse the darkness. Almost any parish can be visibly improved, no matter how lethargic the people and lazy the priest, if a few good people are on fire for God. Who is to say that God will not draw good out of evil?

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