Vatican Orders Cleveland Parishes Reopened

The Vatican is ordering the Diocese of Cleveland to open 13 parishes that had been closed. The decision might bode well for other parishes across the country that are appealing their closures.

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The Vatican has ordered the Diocese of Cleveland to reopen 13 churches. The order is being seen as a rebuke to the Bishop of Cleveland and possibly good news for parishes in other states, as we hear from NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY, BYLINE: Patricia Schulte Singleton had all three of her children baptized at Saint Patrick Parish in Cleveland. It's been her church home since 1990. Then about three years ago, Bishop Richard Lennon started to close some 50 churches in Cleveland. The diocese was short on money and on priests. Saint Patrick was locked up on May 30th, 2010.

PATRICIA SCHULTE SINGLETON: I was the last parishioner to leave. And as I closed those doors, in my heart and in my soul, it was like, I'll be back. We'll be back.

HAGERTY: Turns out she was right. St. Patrick, along with a dozen other Cleveland churches, appealed to the Vatican. Now the Vatican is ordering Bishop Lennon to reopen those 13 churches closed by the diocese.

SINGLETON: I keep on pinching myself, like wow, this is really real. It really is true.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HAGERTY: The ruling from the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy was something of a smack down, says Peter Borre. He's an lawyer who advises congregations whose churches have been closed on how to appeal to the Vatican. Borre says it's the first time that Rome has ordered parishes to be fully reopened.

PETER BORRE: If you destroy the spiritual infrastructure of the Catholic Church in the United States, that's irreversible damage. You will never get those churches and those faith communities back. I think that's the driver.

HAGERTY: A spokesman for the Cleveland Diocese had no immediate comment. He says they need to study the document.

Over the past decade, Borre says, more than 1,500 parishes have been closed. Many have been sold off, 26 in Cleveland alone. But there are at least a dozen parishes around the country that are appealing to the Vatican, including several in Boston. Borre says the order should give them hope.

BORRE: Now the landscape has changed and we can pursue this effort with at least a small expectation of coming to a satisfactory resolution.

HAGERTY: Others are not so sure the ruling sets a precedent. But it could be a major problem for the Diocese of Cleveland, which may have to find the money and the priests to reopen the churches full-time. The bishop could appeal to the Vatican Supreme Court.

Patricia Schulte Singleton says it's been a rough couple of years but she hopes those days are over.

SINGLETON: I'm hoping we can just move forward in getting our parish back on track and open our church doors.

HAGERTY: Perhaps, she says, on the church's feast day, St. Patrick's Day, March 17th.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

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