From Fr. Bob Begin: A Letter to Bishop Lennon
Dear Bishop Lennon,
It is a year now that has passed since March 14th, 2009, when you announced the closings and mergers of many parishes throughout the inner cities and inner ring suburbs of the Diocese. Our priests have been publicly silent. Many of our priests know that thousands of good and loyal people are suffering injury, hurt and an ensuing anger not unlike the anger Jesus himself felt when he confronted the misuse of authority by the leaders of his time. Many priests are hurting as well. Many are angry. Morale is not good.
Public silence can easily be interpreted as acquiescence, agreement and consent. It can make us complicit. Some of us have spoken and written to you privately and requested that you at least submit disputed decisions to a mediation process for the common good of the whole Church. I did that and I took the time to report and explain some of the perceived injustices. I have not yet received an answer to the treatise and to that request that I made to you months ago. To my knowledge, neither have they.
I suggested that in justice, when any central government, for its own perceived benefit, decides that it is necessary to abridge the rights of its member institutions, it is bound in justice to have well-researched and compelling reasons. The compelling reasons for each individual decision must demonstrate that the decision in question truly represents the greater and common good of the people and of the whole institution. These reasons must be made public for the good of the whole institution and for the good of the member institutions. Those who are affected adversely should be consulted and should be part of the decision making process.
In other words, all of the members need to know exactly how the whole institution is really better off because of the particular decisions that have hurt and injured the individual and institutional rights of some members. These rights should never be abridged without adequate explanation. The central government of the institution needs to explain the necessity and the compelling reasons for the decisions and to demonstrate that the process has been fair.
Some of the rights in question are the right to exist, the right of free association, the right to act and minister in solidarity with the community to accomplish a mission and the right of subsidiarity. This last mentioned right is the right to be truly involved in making the decisions that affect and the freedom and mission at the local level. Decisions that can be made at the local level should be. There should not be interference from above. Rather there should be institutional support. I am given to understand that this right of subsidiarity is also a right that Bishops are instructed to nurture when they accept their office.
These rights are God-given human rights stemming from the Natural Law, espoused and taught by a large body of Catholic Social Teaching. Operating contrary to these rights under the color of any human law, even Canon Law, does not give legitimacy to the operation.
In our analogy, you are the central government and the parishes and institutions of the Diocese are the member institutions. Many of our institutions whose appeals were denied by you have appealed to the appropriate Vatican Office. Our hope is that the Vatican Office that is reviewing the appeals will see through the appearance of legitimacy that canonical procedures lends to the process. Our hope is that they will hear the outcry of the people whose perception is that they are being treated unjustly.
By this public letter, I wish to make it clear to the people of our Diocese that my own public silence on this matter and that of many other priests is not a silence that has agreed with your decisions. It is a silence that was motivated sometimes by a fear of your retaliation, sometimes by an unwillingness to hurt the faith and culture of the Church we love and/or by a sense that speaking up would not do any good. It was a silence that was still hopeful that you would use a mediation process. It still is a silence in much of the suburban church that does not even know that we are hurting in the cities and the poorer areas of the Diocese.
I personally believe with many others that the Catholic Church of the Cleveland Diocese is now severely injured. We are fast losing the respect of the faith community of Cleveland, and the broader community that strives for justice. It is far more difficult for us Catholics to be credible witnesses to God’s preferential option for the poor and oppressed.
I am writing this letter publicly because I think that my continued public silence makes me complicit in this injury. I do not wish to participate even passively by silence in anything that harms the Church. Further, I do not want the people of Cleveland to think that just because on May 1st, 2009, you reversed your decision to end our ministry and mission at St. Colman, that we at St. Colman are now in agreement with the Diocesan policy that is hurting our sisters and brothers.
Last week, I received a letter from you announcing that you now wish to launch a capital campaign, using the priests of the Diocese to solicit more than one hundred million dollars. The stated hope is that by allowing pastors to keep 30% of the money they raise in their own parishes and the promise that some of the money will help shore up their pension fund, they will cooperate in this effort.
You should know that unless and until the injustices and perceived injustices that have occurred in the last year are addressed adequately and publicly, I believe that such a campaign will be perceived by many as adding insult to the injury.
In this open letter, I have spoken of justice and rights of people of the Diocese. Jesus, who sent us as he was sent to bring good news to the poor and oppressed, asks much more of all of us than mere justice.
He wants us to go beyond what is just and fair. We are approaching Holy Thursday when knowing that he was about to die, over and over again he pleaded with his friends to love each other as he loved them. He was pleading with us as well to love one another so that his joy might be in us. We are to model that love as his followers, his church.
The joy that comes from knowing that we are loved and from loving is fast disappearing among our people. They are asking one another the question from the song Blowing in the Wind:
“How many times can a man (a bishop) turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see?”
I believe that Canon Law recognizes that a Bishop may not act contrary to what is good for “the salvation of souls”. Many of us believe that the amalgam of what has occurred in the past year and is still occurring in our Diocese is certainly not conducive to the salvation of souls and may truly be harmful. Our hope is still that our appeals will merit a close examination by the Vatican Office and that there will be appropriate remedies, healing and reconciliation in the months and years to come.