By His Hands 

Bishop Lennon has provoked his flock and angered Rome, but Cleveland's most important Catholic isn't about to start changing now

Page 5 of 5

"People have an obsession with change," says Lennon. "How will the Church change? And they're looking for things like same-sex marriages and women priests. And I remind them that the Catholic church has taught a lot of things that we believe has been handed on to us by God, so we can't change it."

There's a distinction between not being willing to change something and not having the authority to, says Lennon.

"That's something many people don't want to hear. And now some people take it too far. They abuse it. They'll say, 'You have to eat fish on Friday because God said you had to!' No no no, that's the Church. Stop it. The whole idea that priests have to be celibate, for instance, that's not true. The church came up with that.

"What people don't realize is that it's not as if the Catholic church can do whatever it wants. As Catholics, we believe that God gave us some things and left some things are for us to figure out on our own.

"Ultimately, it makes no apologies because it's an object of faith. It's not just another club. It's not the rotary. It's not the Democratic Party. It's 2000 years old! And people say it's irrelevant, but on Wednesday afternoon everyone was watching the television. It's big time."


Bishop Richard Lennon's favorite letter ever wasn't a letter, per se. Nor was it addressed to him. But he has a copy of it rolled up in a cylinder in his office. He hired a photographer to make a print of the original. He unravels it and looks upon it with fondness:

He says he has to tell the story:

"Years ago, when I was a young priest, you weren't allowed to have altar girls. Now you can, but back then the law wouldn't allow it. And I am kind of a law-abiding nerd, but I knew I had to do something for the girls. I couldn't say no. So what I did was I founded a girls' choir.

"As things would have it -- First of all I can't sing. But you know, what the hell? I can wave my hands and get kids excited -- I had 65 little tykes for 6 years. And they were wonderful. I was there every Wednesday afternoon for rehearsal and every Sunday morning I directed them for mass, and we had a grand time.

"Now twenty-five years later, the choir was still going. And at that point, I was long gone. I'd left that area. But the person who took my place as the choir director was one of the third graders I had in 1978.

"She wanted to have some recognition for the 25th anniversary, so she calls me and asks if I can get a papal blessing for the choir. I said I don't think so, but of course I'll try. I called a priest friend of mine in Rome. And he said, I don't think they'll do that. I really don't think they will. And I said if they don't, they don't, I mean what the heck. I'm not gonna go to war over it.

"So I get a call and he tells me that they're gonna do it. And he's shocked. He said, 'You know better than to ask for this.' But because I had become the Apostolic Administrator in Boston they said they'd do it for me.

"Anyway this was done and sent out, all hand done, the whole thing. They have the original in the St. Mary's parish hall under glass.  That was the last one that he signed, John Paul II. That's not something a Pope does every day. It's a beautiful piece of work.

"I've been very blessed. I really have."


At 4 p.m., the Bishop departs for Green, Ohio, in Summit County for a confirmation ceremony. Confirmations have to be presided over by a Bishop, so the next few weeks are especially busy. He'll even be at the reopened St. Pat's in early April, and the community there is eager to welcome him back.

Lennon will forego a private dinner with the Queen of Heaven parish priest and opt for the fish fry. He says he prefers to be out among the people, among his flock.

After dinner, he'll meet with the confirmandi privately, say the mass, and stay afterward for a brief reception to welcome the newly confirmed heartily into the Church community.

Then he'll be driven home. Even with daylight savings, it'll be well after the sun has gone down before he arrives back in his quarters. He will have been awake and active for 18 consecutive hours, and in his drowsy solitude he will probably pray and he will probably sleep. And like a lot of Catholics of a certain age, the two will be deeply intertwined.

Up through the length of his Diocese he'll drift, up through the realms of the parishes he tore asunder and continues to piece back together. Up and up he'll go, and by the time he reaches the city, he'll still be an embattled Catholic Bishop. He'll still be a misunderstood Bishop. He'll still be a Bishop who's made and will continue to make tough decisions. He might be a very bad Bishop when all is said and done, but he'll also still be a decent man. An earnest, God-fearing man.

And he'll be jostled awake by the Friday night lights of downtown Cleveland, having endured the journey home. And in that special disorientation that comes with stolen naps, he'll recall with a pleasant start that his day is not done yet -- he still has a few thank you notes to write.   


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