Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Keep the Faith

There follows a letter not accepted for publication in a local paper, but was placed as a comment on a reporter's article. It refers to the Mass of Eviction's aftermath at St. John the Baptist, Akron, Ohio on 31 October 2009:

Disputing with the bishop.

On the eve of All Saints, Bishop Richard Lennon presided over a Mass of Eviction at Saint John the Baptist in Akron. A portion of the faithful wished to vigil in the church. The bishop, for the first time, spoke to members of the 'Endangered Catholics'. He told them he was not there to debate. That as of 15 May 2006 he was the tenth bishop of Cleveland, and the Supreme Court of Ohio, in 1880, gave the bishop possession of every particle of physical property of every parish in the diocese. He enjoined the police force of the municipality to remove these members of his flock. He had procured a court injunction, which the police were embarrassed to enforce, but were compelled by the law to do so.

Now, Jesus had said at the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God." Saint Paul was dismayed when writing to the Corinthians that "brother goeth to law with brother, and that before unbelievers." The bishop showed he was not there to make peace, but to engage the modern day agents of Caesar to defend and enforce his claims. What Paul referred to as 'shame' was this call upon the courts of the county, and state, and the police force of the municipality in this matter of dispute amongst the saints. Herein the bishop chose not the path of conciliation within the church, but to advocate with the state.

He told the Endangered Catholics that they were appointed by no one. While this is true, it is also true that they earnestly represent many, and they are certainly members of his flock.

Many of us remember habited sisters as our teachers, whom taught us that the vicar of Christ, the pope, signed his letters as the servant of the servants of God. All U.S. bishops of the western Church are appointed by the successor of Peter, and we have been blessed by a series of fundamentally humble men, who have held the office of late. Our current ordinary has ever been increasingly imperious. He has become even more akin to a hard-hearted oriental despot, more like Pharoa than the Good Shepherd.

Now, he who sets the terms of debate has the argument more than half won. Our parishes are being suppressed. The stated reasons are not applicable to each parish targeted, nor are they the proper criteria. The reasons of finance, demographics, and clerical numbers are not canonical, nor christian requirements; they are business rationale in current America. They are products of the materialism of the disciples of Adam Smith, and Herbert Spencer that befit business school graduates, and we are all experiencing the woe they befell the nation, and the world, with the current economic bust. This is acceptable, and agreeable as proper, to much of the public, and especially the non-Catholic public. But the constitutional requirements of a parish, has been set by Jesus, and recognised in canon law, for three people to constitute a parish, and when so recognised is meant to be perpetual. Traditionally a parish is made extinct when there is no activity for an hundred years. In this diocese it seems that an hundred years is not the dormancy period, but the life span; and again, constitutional law has not been respected as of recent years in the United States.

The parishes disproportionately targeted are the nationality parishes. Those that were most defined by communality, and closeness of community, and fervency of loyalty and belief. Some of these are more than just barely solvent, some have large financial reserves, yet they are to be suppressed. Bishop Lennon, as many American bishops, has a degree of animus to the nationalities. The hierarchy, and he, prefer an homogenised parish that "pays, prays, and obeys."

Parishes can exist without resident priests. There are parishes served by religious orders that, by definition, are not diocesan priests, yet they are to be suppressed. The clergy shortage argument is not the disqualifying obstacle that it is stated. These religious priests are independent of the diocesan secular structure; the bishop is attempting to go beyond his authority.

Bishop Lennon has created an atmosphere of exasperating low levels of morale throughout the diocese by his mean-spirited, and stubborn endeavors. Many joke in black gallows humour that they live in the diocese of Lennongrad, while others live in apathy and resignation. Lennon has a five year programme for the diocese. As Russians who were born in Saint Petersburg and lived in Leningrad always desired Saint Petersburg, so do many of us.

All Souls Day 2009

Now since then, a countersuit* has been filed in the Summit County court against Lennon. A representative few parishioners from some of the episcopally afflicted parishes are challenging Lennon as being a bad steward of parish property; for he is not the owner but the steward of a trust, and as a steward he has failed, and even acting against his charges.

Now, many of us had heard, as a parting farewell, 'Keep the Faith'. This to many sounds as an odd sort of good-bye, I had heard it often. It is a call to constancy, in a sometimes severely trying world. Well, many of us are 'keeping the faith'. It has not been easy. Some of us are very sorely hit, and Lennon has invited us to leave. He knows multi-thousands will leave, and he is complacent about it. It is a cost of doing business, and collateral damage. The remainder will be just compelled to pony up more money. Some will go elsewhere, or will be shaken as to lose faith. Some of us will be free to join other rites of catholicism, or eastern orthodoxy, for they are also truly catholic. Others will have to be crypto-catholics.

Many of us have or will become as kakure kirishitans and english recusants. But it is not the government that oppresses and suppresses us, but our own leadership. We are conservators of our faith in this. The agent of change, the 'progressive' is our bishop. We are not the blind 'conservatives' that will fall into line to any person who does anything in his office. Every office is circumspect with boundaries, and the proper authority is not to exceed those boundaries. Those who assume to be 'authoritarians' are invisibly cloaked despots, not that the cloaks make them invisible, no, the cloaks are transparently invisible.

It is disconcerting, that in this, we have to recognise the problems with our ecclesial polity. The bishop has failed us, our clergy has not defended their congregations against the ordinary. Some of the criticism we have endured from our non co-religionists has become true in this matter.

We love our church and faith. We are bereft of good leadership. 'Keeping the faith' is very challenging to-day.
*Those suits have been dropped, and the Ohio Attorney General's Office was investigating, but the elections of 2010 brought in a new administration.

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