Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Cleveland's Bishop Says Final Mass For Parish Under Police Escort

When Bishop Lennon said the last Mass at St Procop, his ecclesiatical escort included Cleveland police in uniform, not chasubles and lace.

The Final Mass Is Held At St. Procop In Cleveland
From the Cleveland Plain Dealer

Catholics from all over Greater Cleveland packed St. Procop Catholic Church on Cleveland's near West Side Sunday to mourn the death of a parish founded 137 years ago.

On a gloomy, rainy day, worshippers streamed into the giant 110-year-old sandstone edifice on West 41st Street for the final Mass said by Bishop Richard Lennon, who ordered the church closed earlier this year.

Lennon, who is closing 50 parishes throughout the Cleveland Catholic Diocese, came to St. Procop's under police security, ignoring about 40 protesters who stood outside holding signs.

Inside, a standing-room-only crowd filled pews, side aisles, the vestibule and the choir loft. Many clutched tissues to wipe away tears.

"Today is a special day, a day of sadness, a day of wonderment and a day of anger for some," Lennon said in his sermon. "This is a story of God and men and women working together for over a century. May we rely on God in these days of darkness and sadness."

A few churches already have closed their doors. But the last service at St. Procop's marks the closing of a longtime West Side landmark. Lennon will be present at all of the final services at churches to be closed between now and next summer.

At St. Procop, the choir, accompanied by organ, trumpets, guitars and drums, filled the majestic Byzantine Romanesque structure, rich in sacred art, stained-glass windows and glorious ceiling medallions. The old church, with paint peeling from its walls and ceiling, hadn't seen such liveliness in decades.

"It's sad," said Gil Bachna of Fairview Park, who was baptized in the church 72 years ago. "But it just doesn't have the people. Not as many Catholics go to church like they used to."

Lennon, who has cited shortages of priests and a drop in collection-basket cash as reasons for closing parishes, has targeted mostly inner-city churches. Most of the 750,000 Catholics in the eight-county diocese live in the suburbs. (Gil Bachman in the previous line speaks a truth the Bishop won't. The Bishop says it's priests and money, the parishoner points to the exodus of Catholics from the Church.)

St. Procop's, once a bustling parish filled with Czechs who lived in the neighborhood, was down to about 370 parishioners.

In recent years, it didn't have a full-time priest. It was run by Sister Annette Amendolia, who on Sunday introduced former St. Procop's pastors to standing ovations.

Following the Mass, worshippers streamed into a parish social hall for food and memories. Lennon did not attend.

During the service, uniformed Cleveland police officers watched over the bishop. One followed him down the main aisle during the final procession. Then, flanked by officers, Lennon left the church and walked in the rain through a back parking lot, ignoring the protest signs - "Dis-Membering in Process," "This is Not God's Plan," "Keep Our Church Open."

Protesters Marta Fordos of Fairview Park and Hanna Gereby of Cleveland ran after Lennon, catching up to him. "I'm sorry you have to ruin our churches," snapped Fordos. "Judas!"

Lennon, his eyes downcast, did not respond, continuing his wet march toward his car.


I can't imagine what must have been going through Bishop Lennon's head as he left this parish flanked by a police escort. That is some kind of statement. It's hardly surprising he didn't stay for coffee and cookies. I do admire him though, for making the effort to say the last Mass in this parish, as he plans to do for all the closed parishes. Lots of other bishops have not made this same effort. But it's got to be somewhat like presiding at your own funeral.

The city of Cleveland has experienced a dramatic loss in Catholic population since 1960. It is down from some 275,000 to 90,000. Part of this is the result of the exodus to the suburbs, part of it from people moving out of state for jobs, part of it is smaller families, and part of it because Catholics are leaving in the Church in record numbers. Given these facts I guess it's not surprising that the face of Catholicism in the East and Mid West is moving out of the inner city and into the suburbs. In the East and Mid West Catholicism is reserving itself to sacramentally caring for a Church of middle class whites.

Bishop Lennon's task was never going to easy or smooth. According to Tom Roberts of the NCR, one of the guiding parameters in choosing which parishes and how many were to close was that each parish must be served by a resident priest. There were to be no Sister Annette Amendolia's leading parishes, nor any parishes sharing priests. In Bishop Lennon's thinking a real parish could not exist without it's own 'Father' leading the flock. Unfortunately it's this Church model whose death he is presiding over.

Given the downward trajectory in ordained priests, ten years from now this process will be repeated, and this time the closings will hit the suburbs with the same ferocity it is now hitting inner city parishes. Ten years is a long time. Other things could happen in the meantime, and I'm not referring to a sudden massive increase institutionally ordained clergy.

It is entirely possible that between now and then, Catholics who treasure the sacramental life of the Church, will come to the sensible realization that ordained priests are not really necessary. They may come to the conclusion that it's better to be a Church of six sacraments and have access to all of them, rather than a Church of seven sacraments and have access to none of them.

It is becoming more and more obvious that maintaining the clerical status of the priesthood is vastly more important to the hierarchical church than maintaining access to the sacraments. Bishop Finn is taking the position that there can be no real Catholic parish without ordained priests. In his view, he seems to be saying there is no Church without priests. In my view that's putting the cart before the horse because there's no need for priests without the laity. The only priest Catholicism really needs is Jesus Christ, and He probably wouldn't pass seminary muster in this current Church culture. He wouldn't be orthodox enough.

It's a sad statement when a bishop needs a police escort to do what he sees as his pastoral duty. That's some kind of disconnect between a bishop and his flock, but it might just be the perfect metaphor for the disconnect between the institution and the flock. The hierarchy is now so disconnected it's actually afraid of the flock. Wow, I don't think this is what Christ meant by servant leaders at all.


  1. I'll bet the Church will get a nice chunk of change for that property. What will they do with the funds from the property that were paid by the laity they are afraid of? They will take their money and run for the hills, because they are afraid. They're afraid of spreading the Gospel in the inner cities. I agree with you, Colleen, that in at least ten years they'll be boarding up the parishes in the suburbs. They are hanging by a thread now with more leaving the Church due to the authoritarian, sexist and medieval leadership.

    They will use the funds for their health care premiums and for the Bishop's lavish lifestyle? I doubt it will go to help the poor.

  2. I dont think it will take 10 years, given other factors currently operating in our society, and since the primary criteria for keeping a parish open seems to be the collection plate, I would give it 2, maybe 3 years.

    I see nothing to indicate an influx of priests, nor anything to indicate an influx of cash in the near future. In fact, I see quite the opposite.

  3. How very sad. I am a Methodist. But I love the Catholic church because of the art. I love the Catholic stained glass windows.

    During this recession, churches of all denomination have been caught in a cash crunch.

    Laura Goff Parham

  4. I think what is worse than becoming a church of six sacraments is becoming a church of sacraments only. What ever became of the theology that the church is a church of word and sacrament.

    In a church of sacraments only you only need priests. What happens then. You do not need the laity. You do not have lay run parishes. So inner city churches close. Where is some pastoral creativity.
    Old historical church could be kept open to serve the poor with some of the services they need, maybe not just holy communion. Old historical churches could be used for Masses for funerals or weddings of old time parishioners and their families. In neighborhoods that are regentrifing, there could be some kind of outreach to the numerious folks who have left the Catholic Church.

    If there is only a church of sacraments only, you don't have to speak the language of the local people very well. You only need to be able to utter the magic words.

    This is what happens when there is a church of sacraments only. It is a pretty one demensional religion.

  5. Wildhair, don't you think though, the sacrament which truly makes Catholicism a sacramental church is Holy Orders?

    I suspect if we only had six, the balance between sacrament, word, and action would have a chance at a better balance and gifted laity would be leaders of these parishes.

  6. Well I think what has to go is clericalism and clerical privilage.

    Along with that might be a better theology of Holy Orders.

    Ordain people to perform a range of ministries.

  7. Actually I agree with you. I also think that the revision of the seventh sacrament will come willy nilly or drop completely unless some hierarchical folks start to see that the issue is clericalism not lack of vocations.

    The Spirit is moving and it's moving toward decentralization.

  8. St Procop????

    I know of a St. Procopius, but Pocrop?

    Jim McCrea

  9. 1. Cardinal Egan of NYC was notorious for his haughtiness toward the laity - especially in closing or merging parishes. Lennon would seem to have learned from Egan.....who almost always attended masses with BOTH uniformed AND plainclothes/undercover protect him from the laity. Not just in the cathedral, but in the parish churches.

    He was well known for ducking out by back alleys & side entrances, hurriedly ushered into a waiting 'flee the scene of the crime': the about to be closed parish.

    2, In NYC, Clevelkand & other older urban centers, the $$ has long since fled to suburbia - and exurbia. But as you are saying, that is NOT a static condition. In many of those suburban churches you will see a lot of gray heads in the pews. THOSE are the one lining the coffers of His Eminence.

    As they die off - which they are, faster then the priests will admit - they younger generation is simply NOT there to put into the plate.

    Now add in the present economic meltdown, and the collection baskets will shortly become quite empty.......

    As to 'helping the poor'....the $$ you put in the plate no more goes to the poor then does a check to most so called 'charities'. The clergy have condos to pay for....and the poor are just rabble anyway.

    Seriously, that is the attitude of a majority of bishops & priests.