Answers to Questions about the Reconfiguration Plan
A1. How many parishes are closing?
The reconfiguration plan the plan will result in 52 fewer parishes by June 30, 2010. Twenty-nine of the Diocese’s 224 parishes will close, while 41 parishes have been instructed to merge with one or more neighboring parishes, resulting in the creation of 18 new, combined parishes – for a total net reduction of 52 parishes.
A2. When will they close?
Although the Bishop has instructed the parishes to close no later than June 30, 2010, some parishes may choose to do so sooner.
A3. Why are you doing this?
The goal of this reconfiguration plan is to allow for better use of the Church’s resources and achieve vibrancy for each parish in the eight-county Diocese. The Diocese and its parishes face three major challenges as they work to create a more vibrant Church: population shifts, primarily in movement away from urban areas; financial hardship for many parishes, with 42 percent currently reporting expenses greater than revenues; and fewer priests available for ministry throughout the
A4. Why are so many parishes closing in our central cities?
In some parts of our Diocese there are more parishes than necessary to serve the surrounding population. The migration patterns of Catholics throughout the eight counties of northeast
The purpose of cluster pastoral planning and coordination is to reflect prayerfully and evaluate the vitality of the Church in each cluster area and to plan ways to sustain and strengthen the presence and pastoral care of the Church throughout the Diocese.
Even with this reconfiguration, the Church will continue to have a vital presence and ministry in our central cities. We will continue to serve the spiritual, sacramental, cultural, educational and social needs of our communities through our parishes and through Catholic Charities, the largest diocesan system of social services in the world.
A5. Is the clustering process and closing of parishes the result of the Diocese being in financial straits?
The finances of the Diocese and most of our parishes are not in a crisis state today – even though 42 percent of the parishes currently report expenses greater than revenues – but there are indicators of immediate or pending crises for some of our entities. All parishes have been asked to proceed with a sense of urgency to carefully evaluate their financial statuses and futures to avoid any crises. The drop in Mass attendance in the past 35 years has had an impact on revenues. Meanwhile, expenses keep increasing, including costs for wages, benefits, utilities, other operating costs, and the maintenance costs for our churches, schools and other buildings.
A6. Have the costs of the clergy abuse scandal affected diocesan finances and resulted in the closing of parishes?
The Vibrant Parish Life Initiative was introduced in 2001 as a program to address these anticipated challenges facing the Diocese of Cleveland. That was more than a year before the costs of clergy abuse began to increase significantly. Expenditures for compensation, treatment and legal fees were made from the Diocese’s Property and Casualty Reserve Fund, an emergency fund established more than 20 years ago. No funds other than our long-established and designated emergency reserves were used for these payments.
A7. How many priests does the Diocese have?
The Diocese currently has 257 active diocesan priests, compared with 427 in 1990 and 565 in 1970. It should be noted that, except for very few examples, vocations to ministry in all religious denominations have been on the decline.
As churches face this challenge, the Diocese of Cleveland expects that the clustering and collaboration process will allow for a more equitable distribution of our priests throughout the eight counties. The inequity of our personnel deployment is unmistakable. In one case, a large suburban parish with 4,000 families has three priests serving the faithful, while at the same time there are three parishes in another section of the Diocese which altogether serve 300 families, served by three priests.
THE DECISION PROCESS
B1. Who decided which parishes to close?
Ultimately, Bishop Lennon decided which parishes would close or merge. However, the clustering and collaboration process reflects hard work and discernment by parish leaders and parishioners from every parish.
B2. What was the process?
In May 2007, Bishop Lennon directed 69 clusters of parishes to carefully consider the sharing of resources to create a stronger, more vibrant presence in the eight counties of the Diocese. Included in directives to approximately one-third of the clusters were requirements that they propose reducing the number of parishes within the cluster.
For more than a year, cluster teams that included clergy and laypersons from each parish within the cluster analyzed parish finances, attendance, education, sacramental and social ministries, trends and projected needs. The teams also sought input from parishioners and provided periodic updates.
Between September and December 2008, the clusters submitted their respective proposals to the Bishop, who presented the proposals to the Vibrant Parish Life – Phase II Committee for review and evaluation. The committee includes parish representatives from each of the 13 diocesan districts as well as representatives of the major consultative groups and different areas of the diocesan administration.
Following the Vibrant Parish Life – Phase II Committee review, Bishop Lennon and his cabinet staff studied all of the proposed cluster plans and the Committee reviews of those plans. The Bishop also consulted with the Presbyteral (Priests) Council in accordance with Canon Law regarding consolidation plans. Only after this extensive review process did he announce the final approved cluster plans, which in some cases reflected modifications to the proposals that were submitted.
B3. What is a cluster?
A cluster is a group of parishes brought together for collaborative planning purposes. Cluster planning began in 2007 and has enabled groups of parishes to work together on a variety of levels since that time.
B4. Who are the people on these cluster teams?
Each cluster included an equal number of people (5) from each parish within the cluster, including clergy and laypersons.
B5. The Bishop changed the plan that our cluster team recommended. Why?
Although they represented thoughtful work by the cluster teams and others, the plans that were submitted to the Bishop were just that – recommendations. In some cases, subsequent analysis during the extensive review process determined that the recommendations were based on inaccurate or outdated information or did not sufficiently address the Bishop’s May 2007 directive to the cluster.
B6. Our parish isn’t “in the red,” and Mass attendance is good. Why is the Bishop making us close?
The reconfiguration plan addresses the overall needs of the eight-county Diocese in order to allow for better use of the Church’s resources and achieve vibrancy for each parish. Parish finances and Mass attendance are only two of the many factors that were considered. Others included the sacramental index of each parish and a careful review of all activities accomplished in the cluster, including presence of an ethnic apostolate, number and population of parish schools, outreach to the hungry and homeless, programs for the elderly and homebound, nursing home coverage, youth groups, number of children in religious education, adult education programs, RCIA, meetings hosted by parishes and a number of other activities sponsored by parishes.
B7. Can parishes appeal the Bishop’s order to close?
A parish that is instructed to close has 10 days to appeal to the Diocese. If Bishop Lennon declines to reverse his decision, the parish has 15 days to appeal to the
B8. Does an appeal to the Bishop or the Vatican have any chance of success?
Such appeals succeed only under unusual circumstances. Bishop Lennon made his decisions after thorough analysis, prayerful contemplation and the utmost empathy. He believes very strongly that he applied his best judgment and that his decisions will serve the needs of the Diocese and its people and create the vibrancy that allows us to carry out what God has asked.
C1. What will happen to the sacred objects and other property in the parishes that close?
The Diocese will provide guidelines for parishes that are closing or merging.
C2. What will happen to the church building when a parish closes?
The Diocese will determine the appropriate reuse or eventual sale of church buildings that are closed. In the case of a merger, the newly combine parish will be responsible for those decisions.
C3. Will the Diocese have to pay property taxes on church buildings that close?
That will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
C4. Our parish will be closing. Where will our pastor go?
Clergy reassignments will be determined at a later time.
C5. Our parish is merging with another parish. Will our pastor/priest be able to come with us?
Under most circumstances, pastors/priests from merging parishes will be reassigned elsewhere. However, a pastor/priest may ask the Bishop to consider assigning him to the combined parish.
C6. My elderly mother has been able to walk to Mass. Now, with her parish closing, she will be unable to get to Mass. What can she do?
As they welcome new members from parishes that are closing, parishes are being encouraged to explore opportunities to provide transportation services or other outreach where appropriate.
C7. Nationality parishes are being especially hard-hit. Is this fair?
The reconfiguration plan takes into account the spiritual and social needs of various ethnic groups and, in most cases, provides for their relocation to nearby parishes. Unfortunately, many existing nationality parishes have suffered from declining membership, financial difficulties and physical disrepair.
C8. What will happen to the many charitable ministries that parishes contribute to their communities and neighborhoods?
The Bishop asked the cluster planning and coordination teams to prayerfully consider these ministries and their tremendous impact. In most cases, plans are being made to continue carry out the Church’s ministry to each community and neighborhood in the same or similar ways.
C9. Why are you closing some of the schools?
We intend to maintain a strong Catholic educational presence in every area of our Diocese, but we must do so in a way that makes effective use of our resources. Our responsibility is to educate our children, not to keep every building open.