It is always sad when a Catholic parish closes. Whatever the reasons, it shows that a community can no longer support a vibrant Catholic church in its midst. However, there is no question that changing demographics demands that sometimes a bishop must close parishes. And note who I said must close the parish: a bishop, the only person in Catholic ecclesiology who has the power to do so.
Yet too often we hear of protests against such actions by those who still belong to the closing parish:
Parishioners from at least 10 Catholic churches ordered closed by Bishop Richard Lennon have scheduled a protest march today outside the bishop’s office in downtown Cleveland.
The group, known as “Endangered Catholics,” plans to hand out copies of a statement claiming Lennon’s closing of 50 parishes in the eight-county diocese was an “injustice” to all Catholics.
“It is our bedrock belief that no parish should be closed, suppressed or merged without consent of the parishioners,” the statement reads in part…
“If the bishop can do something this big regardless of what the faithful say, then he can do anything,” said Bob Kloos, a parishioner at St. Peter in downtown Cleveland, one of the churches to be closed.
“We need to challenge this whole thing,” Kloos said. “He’s no more baptized than we are.”
I understand the emotional attachments that one can have for his local parish, but these protesters do not show the slightest understanding of Catholic theology or ecclesiology (and remember, their parish is where they should have learned it). The Church is not a democracy and a bishop has complete authority in his diocese. He does not need consent from anyone – including parishioners – to close a parish or school under his control. This is something a Catholic should know from their earliest catechism.
I cannot also help but note that the reason parishes close is due to declining attendance, declining vocations, and declining contributions: all things that are directly under the responsibility of the laity. If the laity were evangelizing the neighborhood, encouraging religious vocations within each home, and tithing at a responsible rate, I would think that the bishop would be more concerned with opening new parishes rather than closing them. We must first look to ourselves when we see such problems and ask what we can do to resolve them – instead of blaming the bishop for making official what was already evident for years: these neighborhoods cannot support Catholic parishes anymore.
It is possible that Bishop Lennon handled these closings poorly, but no excuse can be given for challenging a bishop’s authority in his diocese. We need to pray for these protestors and the bishop in Cleveland that they might be reconciled and work to build faithful parishes in the future.