.- Bishop Richard G. Lennon of Cleveland has asked the Vatican to investigate his decision to shut down dozens of churches in his diocese after some local parishioners reacted strongly to the closures.
“While I am confident that I am faithfully handling the responsibilities entrusted to me, I personally made this request earlier this year because a number of persons have written to Rome expressing their concerns about my leadership of the Diocese,” Bishop Lennon said in a July 11 statement.
Bishop Lennon said that in response to his request, the Vatican has sent emeritus Bishop John M. Smith of Trenton, New Jersey to investigate the Cleveland diocese this week.
“Following the conclusion of his visit, Bishop Smith will submit a report to The Holy See,” Bishop Lennen said, adding, “no timetable has been announced.”
The news comes as a massive downsizing program announced in 2009 has closed over 50 parishes – many of them operating in the red – due to falling attendance, a priest shortage and financial problems. Although some churches were closed, others were merged, leaving 174 parishes remaining in the diocese.
Reacting to the move, some parishioners expressed anger and questioned the leadership of Bishop Lennon.
In August of 2010, Catholics from downtown Cleveland’s St. Peter’s Church formed a group called the Community of St. Peter when the diocese closed their church earlier that year. They rented space for their group and held Mass despite a warning from Bishop Lennon.
Fr. Robert Marrone, former pastor of St. Peter’s, celebrated the unauthorized Mass last August. The liturgy had about 350 people in attendance and included a baptism.
Bishop Lennon said on Monday that Bishop Smith's investigation “will be an opportunity to gather extensive information on all aspects of the activities of the Diocese and will allow for an objective assessment of my leadership.”
“I ask for prayers that this process will support the vibrancy and vitality of our Diocese going forward,” he said.
Officials from the Cleveland diocese did not return calls requesting more information.