Priest who followed his parishioners is excommunicated

Cleveland’s Bishop Richard Lennon has formally excommunicated a priest who followed his parishioners into an independent worship community after the bishop improperly closed their parish.

The conflict between the diocese and the parish of St Peter in downtown Cleveland began in 2009 when Bishop Lennon announced the closure of 50-plus parishes and churches in a diocese-wide downsizing programme, primarily in response to decreasing membership and increasing costs.

Unwilling to disband as a community, a contingent of more than 300 St Peter parishioners chose to incorporate themselves as a group outside the diocese’s authority, operating in a renovated warehouse.

The parish priest, Father Robert Marrone, who at his own request had been given a one-year leave from priestly ministry, chose to remain as leader of the community. Despite being prohibited from publicly celebrating the sacraments, he celebrated Mass weekly with the community.

In January 2011 Bishop Lennon gave Father Marrone a formal canonical warning that he must resign from leadership of the breakaway group. The priest declined.

Several groups of parishioners across the diocese had appealed to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy against the closure of their parishes. In March 2012 the congregation ruled that 11 parishes — including St Peter — had been improperly closed and must be reopened.

In September 2012 St Peter parish reopened with another pastor, but most community members declined to rejoin the parish.

Bishop Lennon said he took the extraordinary step of pursuing Father Marrone’s excommunication after several attempts to reconcile him with the Church, and after the priest had declined multiple requests to meet the bishop.

Bishop Lennon said: “The desired effect of excommunication is not to ban someone from the Church permanently. Rather it is a temporary status meant to be medicinal and to encourage the person to reconcile with the Church.”

In a brief statement to members of the St Peter community, Father Marrone said the bishop’s action reflected a continuous pattern in the diocese of “clustering, consolidation, closing, suppressions and reopening of parishes. I must, as I have stated repeatedly in the past, follow my conscience in this matter.”


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