New twist in the parish closing debate: Parishioners from St. Peter Church in downtown Cleveland, which was shuttered in a recent round of parish closings, have created a new non-profit to continue their charitable work, The Community of St. Peter. The wrinkle: They celebrated Mass last Sunday in the space they rented, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, in opposition to an April letter from Cleveland Bishop Richard Lennon that they not do so.
What's more, the bishop's April letter implied that parishioners' communion with the church and even salvation may be jeopardized if they worship outside the parish structure, noting that he would not permit any priest in the diocese to preside at liturgies outside of approved diocesan spaces. (St. Peter's long-time pastor, Father Robert Marrone, presided on Sunday.) Diocesan spokesman Robert Tayek even suggested that excommunication is a possibility: "Eventually it could come to that. It would have to be properly investigated." Lennon has asked for a meeting with the group.
Closing a parish is a painful and difficult decision for all involved, but to threaten or even suggest excommunication for acting in defiance of the bishop's administrative decision seems many steps too far. Whether you agree with the parishioners of St. Peter or not, they have responded in a creative way to the closure of their parish building. Better for the bishop and the community to find a middle way, one that allows the St. Peter's experiment to play itself out. Who knows? It may turn out to be an alternative for community's who are too small to maintain large buildings but large enough to remain a viable faith community, as I argued in my August 2009 column "Non-parishable goods."
Either way, it's a situation worth watching.