WASHINGTON — Bishop Richard Lennon of Cleveland said he will reopen 12 parishes as directed by the Vatican to promote "peace and unity" in the diocese.
His announcement came a month after the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy overturned the closings of the parishes in 2009 and 2010 and said the churches must be restored for worship.
Addressing the media April 17, Bishop Lennon said that appealing the congregation's ruling to the Apostolic Signature, the Vatican's supreme court, "would prolong the process for a number of years and would create more uncertainty and continue to divide our Catholic community."
"I now say it's time for peace and unity in the Diocese of Cleveland," the bishop said.
The congregation's rulings -- detailing how the process outlined in canon law for closing a parish was not followed in the case of the closings -- stem from appeals by parishioners who were assisted by canon lawyers. The decrees reversed the closings undertaken in a diocesan-wide reconfiguration plan that saw 27 parishes closed and another 41 merged to form 18 new parishes.
Early reports said 13 decrees were received, but Bishop Lennon said he had received word on 12 parishes from the Vatican congregation.
Seven of the parishes are located in Cleveland, two in Akron, one in Lorain and one each in the inner-ring suburbs of Bedford and Lakewood. Most of the parishes opened in the early 20th century to serve European immigrants.
Bishop Lennon did not offer a timeline for any of the parishes to reopen.
Two leaders in the appeal effort welcomed Bishop Lennon's announcement and expressed hope that the reopening process would move ahead quickly.
"I'm relieved that he has come to the conclusion that it would be in the best interest of the diocese and the parishioners affected not to appeal the decrees," said Patricia Schulte-Singleton, president of St. Patrick Church parish council when the west side Cleveland parish closed and who formed the Save St. Pat's Committee.
"We need to work together," she said. "I think we can hammer out the details in order to get that full restoration. It might be iffy on both ends, for the parish and the diocese, but I think we can do it."
Toni Sabo, a member of the closed St. James Parish in Lakewood, said she looked forward to meeting her new pastor.
"We're more than pleased," she said. "You are told as little children that miracles happen and you say, 'Oh, really?' But to us this is a miracle."
Bishop Lennon said matters of staffing, including the assignment of pastors or parish administrators, the return of sacred objects and minor maintenance must be addressed before each parish reopens.
"We will work with the priests and parishioners as the reestablish their parishes," he said.
"As is true for all parishes, it will be essential that each of these parishes demonstrate on an ongoing basis an active membership and the financial wherewithal to sustain themselves," the bishop added.