Think you'll need last rites? Plan ahead

CLEVELAND -- In days long gone, Catholic priests regularly made deathbed house calls, even in the middle of the night with little notice, to pray over the dying and anoint them with holy oils.

The candlelight ritual, popularly known as last rites, continues in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice houses and private homes. But it happens less frequently because priests -- the only ones who can perform the service -- are in short supply.

Although fewer Catholics are seeking what’s officially known as the sacrament of anointing of the sick, those who do want it could be at risk of reaching their final hours without the prayer-whispering presence of a Roman-collared priest unless they plan ahead.

“We recommend that whenever you’re ill, ask for that sacrament,” said retired Cleveland auxiliary bishop Anthony Pilla. “So many times people don’t want to be anointed because they think that might mean they’re going to die.

“But it’s not just a sacrament for the dying,” he said. “It’s for the sick and the recovering.”

Ohioís bishops urge end to death penalty

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Catholic bishops of Ohio are calling on Gov. John Kasich and state lawmakers to abolish the state’s death penalty.

The bishops said they concur with recent comments by Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer, who charged the state’s capital punishment law is discriminatory and applied unevenly and should be replaced with a penalty of life in prison without parole. Ohio in recent years has executed more death row inmates than any state except Texas.

“Just punishment can occur without resorting to the death penalty. Our church teachings consider the death penalty to be wrong in all cases,” the 10 bishops said in a statement issued Friday (Feb. 4).

“Life imprisonment respects the moral view that all life, even that of the worst offender, has value and dignity.”

Pfeifer, a Republican, helped write the 1981 law that instituted the death penalty, but said the safeguards he and other lawmakers put in place at the time to prevent inequities have not worked. He called the use of capital punishment a “lottery.”

“It has bothered me from the beginning,” Pfeifer told reporters on Jan. 19.

Sisters hopeful on Tobinís role in Vatican probe

The recent appointment of an American archbishop to the Vatican office overseeing a wide-ranging investigation of U.S. nuns has the sisters and their supporters breathing a little easier.

Archbishop Joseph Tobin has already acknowledged the “anger and hurt” among U.S. nuns caused by the probe in his new role as the secretary, or No. 2 official, of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

Tobin, who grew up in Detroit, has said he will work to heal any rifts between American sisters and the Catholic hierarchy in Rome. He also hopes to lift a shroud of secrecy surrounding the probe.

“We’re very excited by his appointment,” said Sr. Mary Ann Flannery, director of the Jesuit Retreat House in Parma, Ohio. “He’s coming from an American culture that believes you have a right to defend yourself, a right to have your voice heard.”

The investigation, officially known as an “apostolic visitation,” is meant to “look into the quality of life” in sisters’ religious communities, according to the Vatican.

Few friends, many enemies in diocesan down-sizing

CLEVELAND -- Even before he was officially installed as the Roman Catholic bishop of Cleveland in 2006, Richard G. Lennon was already talking about the need to close churches.

“As painful as a funeral is, it’s there that you commend your loved one to God,” Lennon told reporters just weeks before his installation.

Those words, coming from an auxiliary bishop who had just closed scores of churches in Boston, sounded a death knell for dozens more in Northeast Ohio—and unleashed a small but shrill backlash across Lennon’s new flock.

The extensive downsizing is essentially over, although some of the closings remain under appeal with the Vatican. In the end, 50 parishes were closed. Vacant churches are up for sale, merged parishes are moving forward.

Now, Lennon must minister to a diocese where emotions remain raw.

Like many U.S. bishops in financially struggling regions, Lennon faced a rapidly changing church: too few priests and too few members for too many buildings.