I wish I knew what to make of Bishop Lennon’s latest move in refusing to let Bob Begin continue on as pastor of St Colman’s. I feel bothered, and perhaps a bit disheartened by the whole mess. Bob was ready, willing, and able to stay on. Under his leadership St Colman’s has developed a very active social ministry for the neighborhood and beyond. Bob is the focal point for the parish’s successful impact on the city. He is a good and pastorally zealous leader. He has grown with his people.
I hesitate to judge the bishop. I have been misjudged myself a number of times, and I know how painful it can be. Most of us have been down that road a few times. I have personally experienced his tremendous personal pastoral sense and caring, and for this I am profoundly grateful. But there is a major disconnect between his personal pastoral gifts and his management style, which is causing much hurt among the folks of the diocese, including the priests.
Every once in a while it seems Bishop Lennon is sincere about trying to repair whatever relations he has with the priests of the diocese, and then he does something like this. His reputation is that he continues to forget what he has previously said about any given topic. From the documents and timeline I have been able to see this seems to be the case here. One might wonder why this is.
When he came to Cleveland it seems he set out deliberately to demolish Bishop Plla’s Church in the City concept. He is continuing to do so with this latest move. Either he doesn’t understand parish life in the city, he just doesn’t care, or he is out to destroy it for whatever reason. He showed this in the parishes he closed. None of this had to be. This current situation with St Colman’s doesn’t have to be either. It would appear that in his management style the bishop is concerned only with what is legal in canon law, not with what is pastoral and good for the folks. He does things because he can. No one has called him on it. Except, perhaps, the successful appeal to Rome by some closed parishes. But, he still hasn’t learned.
We need the Church in the City. Our neighborhoods and their parishes are our strongest points. Our ethic diversity is, and historically has been, rich. Our city is a good melting pot in the best possible sense. In Cleveland we have always worked together, especially through the rough spots. St Colman’s is doing good work. It is high energy and moving ahead under Bob’s capable leadership. The bishop can do much more good by simply sitting down and talking with the folks and working with them. Dialogue is always good. Some pastors are willing and able to stay on past 75. Bob is one of them. How does the bishop decide who goes and who stays? What about the priests who really want to retire and he won’t let them? There are quite a few priests hurting because of the way the bishop treats them. There is a lot of fear among some who have strong opinions but will not speak out because of what he might do to them. I’m not in that situation, so I want to be very careful of treating them unfairly. It will take a long time for a healing process to happen among many priests. The bishop himself has to be hurting, too. There is no fun in this for anybody.
Do parishioners have any rights here? It would seem that in the bishop’s mind they don’t. I have a lot of respect for the Community of St Peter for the way they dealt with their situation. They acted, and continue to act, with courage and faith. Perhaps its time for another parish to stand up for what they think is right. When my mother’s family on Ellen Avenue went to St Colman’s it was a tough Irish neighborhood with a tough Irish pastor, Msgr Dr Martin. Maybe the parish has retained its character. I, for one, hope so. St Colman’s parishioners are having meetings to decide what to do in the current situation. I wish them all the best, and pray they have the courage to do whatever the Spirit calls them to do. There is enough energy and firepower in the parish to generate significant commotion, if that is what it takes, and it just might be.
It would seem to me that it is about time for the bishop to be accountable to the people of the diocese, including the priests. I don’t know how he deals with the various consultative groups, but anecdotally it seems he already has his mind made up by the time he consults. There is secrecy in all these matters, but secrecy is one of the operational marks of the true church. Maybe he is not capable of honest and open dialogue. His style seems to be I talk, you obey. In this he reflects the current hierarchy style.
In this day and age this is no way for a bishop to treat any parish.
Just sayin . . .