Closed Churches Play the Waiting Game After Vatican Decision

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It’s been a week since the Vatican rocked local Catholics with news that it had overturned the closing of 13 churches across Northeast Ohio, a response to Bishop Richard Lennon’s recent “Slim Down for the Rapture!” initiative.

But in keeping with its centuries-old tradition of taking forever to do virtually nothing, the Church has yet to get the paperwork into the hands of Lennon, the diocese confirmed Tuesday. Despite widespread celebrations among parishioners from the shuttered parishes, they too are in the dark over their future.
Meanwhile, one closed parish that had already moved on without the bishop’s approval isn’t waiting by the mailbox.

“As we told our community [Sunday], we can’t comment until we see documentation,” says Robert Marrone, pastor of the Community of St. Peter. Since his sanctuary was closed by Lennon in 2010, Marrone has led St. Peter’s congregation — now numbering some 450 — in a building at East 71st and Euclid. These days, he’s calling for cautious jubilance, or maybe none at all.

“Even after we see the documents — so what?” he says. “I don’t have keys to the church. We can’t get in there.”

Outspokenness against authority is a robe Marrone wears well. Back in January 2011, Lennon ordered the pastor to cease and desist within 48 hours or else. Marrone refused, and the bishop backed down. They haven’t spoken since. “It’s an odd situation,” Marrone admits.

Even if the Vatican’s decree does mean the churches will be revived, it’s anyone’s guess how a solo flyer like St. Peter will be welcomed back to the flock. The bishop has 60 days to file an appeal from the date he receives the paperwork.

Diocesan spokesman Robert Tayek notes that the Community of St. Peter has been called a “breakaway” parish in the media, but he is not so quick to characterize the group or its leader in any way. “I don’t know where they stand under church law,” he says. “That’s something that the canon lawyers will have to figure out.”

Marrone, too, knows that the waiting game has just begun.

“The whole thing is in the diocese’s court. All the ‘what if, what if’ just hurts people,” he says, noting that it took three years’ worth of appeals just for the Vatican to reverse the closings. If the diocese also decides to appeal, we could all be explaining our Cinemax bill to St. Peter by the time a decision is made.

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