The LuLac Edition #1158, Apr. 21st, 2010
The Times Leader's Mark Guydish had a very interesting story about ethnic parishes and the Diocese of Scranton. Since it impacted my old church, I thought I'd highlight his article in our Wednesday feature.
By Mark Guydish Education Reporter
An unusual effort to keep churches open by focusing on their ethnic origins has been launched in the Vatican by 22 parishes in six Roman Catholic Dioceses across the U.S., including nine parishes in the Diocese of Scranton and a McAdoo parish that belongs to the Diocese of Allentown. Representatives from the parishes added their names to a letter penned by Peter Borre and delivered to Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski, the Prefect for the Congregation of Catholic Education in the Vatican. The letter outlines what Borre contends is a “deliberate campaign of parish ethnic cleansing spreading across America.” Grocholewski was deliberately approached because of his high status in the Vatican and the fact that he is Polish. Many of the parishes involved were built for Polish immigrants and others from Eastern European countries that, like Poland, won freedom from the former Soviet Union. Borre has helped oversee an effort to keep several churches open in the Archdiocese of Boston, where some parishioners have sat in vigil in closed churches for up to five years. The tactic is intended to prevent sale of the building and has met with some success, as several closed Boston churches were reopened.
In the letter delivered to Grocholewski, Borre details what he believes is a pattern of targeting ethnic parishes for closing in several dioceses, particularly Allentown, Scranton and Cleveland:
• In the Diocese of Allentown, Borre wrote, “in the past few years, 24 parishes of Polish, Slovak, Lithuanian, Hungarian and Slovene traditions have closed … almost half of all parishes (52) closed recently in that diocese.”
• In the Diocese of Scranton, he said “of 144 doomed parishes, the overwhelming majority (104, or 72 percent) are ethnic.” Of 38 Polish parishes, only seven will remain, of 23 Slovak parishes, none will remain, and of 14 Lithuanian parishes, one will remain.
• In the Diocese of Cleveland, where the bishop last year announced closings of 55 churches, 24 have Eastern European heritage: nine Polish, six Hungarian, six Slovak, two Slovene and one Lithuanian.
“The ethnic bias in parish closings in America is clearly in evidence,” Borre wrote.
In a phone interview, Borre said he noticed what he contends is the pattern of closing ethnic churches during his research, and that it seemed “fragmentary in some diocese but striking in three.” Borre believes some bishops rationalize the closing of ethnic churches by arguing the original reason for them – to serve non-English speaking immigrants – no longer exists. “I think that’s hogwash,” he said, “Many of these ethnic parishes retain traditions from the old country through liturgy, folk songs, Christmas and Easter celebration, and to this day these things mean a lot to their parishioners.” He said the letter and related written testimony by several parishes is not an official appeal or action in the Vatican, but rather an attempt to get the document – and the idea that such “cleansing” could be happening – circulating in the Vatican bureaucracy. “I hope to be heading back to Rome in a few weeks and see what the sequel is, if any,” he said.
Local churches that had parishioners add their names to the document were Holy Ghost in Olyphant, Holy Trinity and Sacred Heart-St. John in Wilkes-Barre, St. Francis of Assisi in Plains Township, St. John the Baptist in Taylor, St. John the Baptist in Pittston, St. Michael in Old Forge, Ss. Peter and Paul in Avoca and St. Stanislaus in Nanticoke. St. Kunegunda in McAdoo, just south of Hazleton was also represented. Noreen Foti, who has been spearheading efforts to save Sacred Heart Church in Wilkes-Barre, said the document was another avenue to pursue. Her group, the Sacred Heart Wilkes-Barre Foundation, has an appeal pending before the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome, which had extended the appeal three times. By joining Borre’s initiative, she said, “We hope to continue raising awareness of our plight in the Vatican, in particular, the plight of ethnic personal parishes. The magnitude of the church closings in America is astounding and we hope the message is being received in the Vatican before it is too late.”
Foti said Bishop-elect Joseph Bambera, who will be formally installed April 26, has met with representatives from some of the churches involved, and has agreed to meet with Foti and her group May 3. This is a sharp departure from former Bishop Joseph Martino, who oversaw the process – dubbed “Called to Holiness and Mission – that decided which churches will close. “Our desire is to arrive at a mutually acceptable arrangement with the Diocese to keep the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church open,” Foti said. Diocese of Scranton spokesman Bill Genello provided the following response to Borre’s initiative via e-mail: “The goal of the Called to Holiness and Mission planning process is to foster the spiritual and pastoral renewal of every parish in the Diocese of Scranton. The process has involved many months of self-evaluation at the parish level, study within clusters comprised of every parish, and review by various Diocesan committees. Input was gathered from pastors and parishioners throughout the process. “All of the recommendations and eventual decisions were carefully reviewed before the implementation phase began. The decisions were made in full accordance with the parameters of Canon Law. The parish consolidations have affected both territorial and personal (ethnic) parishes. The Diocese recognizes that it would be unrealistic to expect every parishioner to agree with every decision, and that change is often accompanied by pain and trepidation about the future. “At the same time, the Diocese is encouraged by the fact that many parishioners have chosen to move forward in a positive way and they are working together to build vibrant faith communities.”
Mark Guydish, a Times Leader staff writer, can be reached at 829-7161.
I'd like to thank Mark Guydish for a fine article. I am staggered by the statistics too. And how about the comment from the Diocesan flack who is "encouraged by the fact that many parishioners have chosen to move forward in a positive way". Did they have any freaking choice? The church I grew up in destroyed. Gone. Leveled like a God damn trailer park making way for a Burger King. Here's what it looked like and how it grew. Before it was killed by the Diocese of Scranton.