Bad news for parish “vigilers”
Cleveland's Plain Dealer is reporting that the Vatican has ruled that a diocesan bishop can close any parish in his diocese, regardless of its financial stability or membership. Cleveland has been in the process of closing dozens of parishes, five of which have protested to Rome hoping for a reprieve.
No one should be surprised at a ruling from Rome that refuses to limit the power of a bishop in his own diocese. At the same time canon law recognizes parishes as juridical persons with standing--presumably with rights and duties--and the law also makes clear that the property of a parish must follow its members whether the parish location is closed or not. A bishop is not free to confiscate parish property for some other use.
I don't see this as a good news ruling. As an article in the October issue of U.S. Catholic will report, the process of parish closings and consolidation can be quite uneven; though there is always some process of "consultation," many parishioners report feeling as if the decision was already made. And, as I argued in my August 2009 column, I think there are some more creative approaches available than closing struggling parishes.
There are times when parishes must be closed, and there must be a process for doing that when necessary. At the same time, the people of God who have gathered at the parish table over many decades deserve something more than "consultation" when it comes to finally deciding how their ministry in that place will continue or come to an end.