Imperiled Cleveland parishes still have a prayer

This report from Religion News Serivce

CLEVELAND — At least five Catholic churches that had been ordered closed have received letters from Rome alerting them that the deadline for the evaluation of their appeals had been extended.

The news buoyed spirits among members of St. James in Lakewood, Ohio, and the Cleveland churches of St. Patrick, St. Emeric, St. Wendelin and St. Peter, five of the 10 parishes in the Cleveland diocese that are appealing orders from Bishop Richard Lennon to close.

Patricia Schulte-Singleton, the leader of a lay coalition called Endangered Catholics, said she expects the five other appealing churches to receive the same letter from the Congregation for the Clergy, which has the power to review the bishop's decision-making.

This marks the third time the Vatican panel has given itself more time to review the cases from Cleveland. All of the appealing churches have been closed and they no longer hold Mass, although people still gather outside of some of them to pray.

"We find this encouraging," said Schulte-Singleton. "It's not a denial. It extends the process. It holds up any sale of the property."

The July 2 letter from Rome states only that "it has been necessary to extend the time limits" of the appeal process.

The Cleveland diocese responded on its Web site July 13. "This simply means that the Congregation of Clergy is giving itself a longer period of time to consider the appeal of the now closed church," the statement reads.

An expert in canon law agreed that the appealing parishes should not draw too much solace from the extension. Peter Borre, who became an adviser to imperiled parishes after fighting to save churches in Boston, said he recently returned from Vatican City and a visit to the Congregation for the Clergy.

"They are overwhelmed with appeals from American parishes, and this is especially the case with Cleveland," he said. "The fact the congregation gives itself an extension has nothing to do with the merits of the appeal, and it is misguided to conclude that salvation is at hand."

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